Online premiere: Friday 3 April 2020, broadcast free online as part of the Royal Opera House's #OurHouseToYourHouse series.
Handel’s Acis and Galatea has a charming character that derives from its origin as a type of work intended for a special occasion. As often with such works it was created on a theme from myth or as allegory, and with a pastoral setting, to be performed outdoors at night with artificial lighting, by only a handful of performers. Handel adapted a single-act version, written in 1718 for performance at Cannons, the estate of the Duke of Chandos, and an earlier version he had written in 1708, to create the longer work that provides the basis for performances today.
Acis and Galatea was first performed at the King’s Theatre in London’s Haymarket on 10 June 1732. The rustic charm of Act I’s atmosphere turns much darker with the appearance of Polyphemus in Act II, whose aria ‘O ruddier than the cherry’ is one of the more well-known numbers in the piece.
Wayne McGregor’s production was presented by The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet in 2009, in a programme with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. In it, the sung characters are mirrored by dancers, extending and animating the expression of the emotions – love, jealousy, rage, defiance, sorrow – that power the work. In the touching conclusion, the lovers as singer (Galatea) and dancer (Acis) are united.
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Galatea, a half-divine nymph, is in love with the shepherd Acis, and he with her. Their mutual happiness is evident to all. But Polyphemus, a giant, is also in love with Galatea. She rejects his advances, and Acis challenges the giant. Enraged by the couple's professions of love, Polyphemus crushes Acis with a rock. Galatea is distraught, but uses her powers to give Acis immortality, turning him into the god of a fountain.