Theatre in Wales

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Ninety Minutes of Unbroken Melody

Acis and Galatea

Mid-Wales Opera & RWCMD , Theatr Hafren Newtown , February-11-14
Acis and Galatea  by Mid-Wales Opera & RWCMD On occasion art and life come together in a way unintended by the makers. For the third venue of this first Mid-Wales Opera and RWCMD collaboration, after Cardiff and Buxton, the chosen day has been one of unbroken sunlight between the unrelenting banks of rain. In John Gay’s 1718 libretto the nymphs and swains sing in praise of the verdant plains. Their song of joy is expression of how it feels to travel the Upper Severn valley, Llanidloes to Newtown, this day.

Musically Handel’s accomplishment after only a handful of years in London is well attested but little is known of the circumstances of the first staging. Director Annelise Miskimmon has followed the probable Masque presentation of having musicians, chorus and principal singers all on stage. Artistic director Nicholas Cleobury sits at the keyboard stage right and leads the twelve-strong Brecon Baroque and the choral singers from the RWCMD.

Nicky Shaw’s set is a magic box , revealing ever new tricks and perspectives throughout the hour and a half of Handel’s near unbroken melodic grace. The principals, led by Jane Harrington’s Galatea and Oliver Mercer’s Acis, sing before a variety of verdant scenes. The shepherds hardly suggest they have ever done a day’s work in the fields. In their creamy waistcoats and knee-length britches they look as if they are in preparation for a Watteau-esque fếte galante.

Director Miskimmon and lighting designer Declan Randall achieve some effects of exquisite emotion. Acis makes his exit with slow deliberate pacing. The lighting dims to the five candles held by the singers to lament that “gentle Acis is no more.” At the close the lighting gives the painted scenery the hues and colours of an August Macke canvas.

Mid Wales Opera has a reputation for small touches of directorial wit. The first sighting of Polyphemus, only in part, had me spontaneously chuckling out loud. If I had to choose one piece of stand-out music it would be the blend of fifteen voices mid-way through the second act. When Gay’s libretto calls for the Arcadian cluster to express joy the writing is as simple as it can get. The word “happy” is sung three dozen times in jubilation. The singers, arm in arm, make a charming little jump in accompaniment. Happy is as happy does. The audience response is rapturous.

The “Acis and Galatea” tour continues intermittently until September, and includes the festivals at St David’s (30 May) and St Asaph (26 September.)

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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