Two of the many star-crossed lovers of Roman mythology, Acis and Galatea made their debut in Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses, which encompassed some 250 tales weaving Mediterranean history with fanciful stories of creation.
Their unlikely pairing—Acis was a mortal shepherd, Galatea a sea nymph—and tragic parting inspired the work of countless artists across a multitude of media. One of the most enduring depictions was that of George Frideric Handel, who crafted from the tale one of the world’s most admired “pastoral” operas, a style noted for turning its focus from the usual topics of the time—most notably matters related to the royal court—and toward the simplicity of life in the countryside.
Oberlin Opera Theater presents Handel’s Acis and Galatea in four performances in Hall Auditorium beginning Thursday, November 11, through Sunday, November 14. The Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.
It marks the first fully staged production to welcome a full audience to Hall Auditorium since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premiered in 1718 at a stately manor outside of London, the opera focuses on the courtship of the titular lovers and the confrontation that ensues when a jealous newcomer—the fearsome cyclops Polyphemus—aims to crush the young romance in a fit of rage.
At its core, Acis and Galatea explores the ways in which we are transformed by loss—and how we cling to hope amid the pain. In preparing the work for the stage, Oberlin Opera Theater director Jonathon Field pored over the earliest of source material: Ovid’s 2,000-year-old epic.
“The thing I realized about it is that these are tales of people and gods who, because of extreme grief or calamity, become transformed into a tree or a rock,” says Field. “In our case, Acis gets transformed into a stream of water. The basic idea behind it is that extreme grief and extreme loss lead to a metamorphosis.
“In our own lives,” Field continues, “people who have experienced extreme loss are never the same. People may say You’ll get over it, but you really don’t. You just have to learn to live with the new you that comes out of it. We are transformed by the sudden loss of those who are nearest and dearest to us, and that’s what this piece is all about.
“Plus,” the ever-mirthful director is quick to note: “We’ve got a cyclops!”
Also in typical Fieldian fashion, the production will include its share of visual treats—from the costuming to the elaborately crafted set, with its pair of “water features.”
Field likens the opera’s music to 18th-century pop songs, with its many repeated sung lines and melodies propelling the viewer through each scene.
The libretto, by John Gay, will be sung in its original English by a cast of seven principal performers and a 16-member chorus. Handel’s score will be performed by the Oberlin Orchestra under the direction of guest conductor Matilda Hofman, a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, who directed performances by Oberlin’s Sinfonietta and Contemporary Music Ensemble in November 2019.
Tickets to Handel’s Acis and Galatea are $10 ($8 for students). They are available by calling 800-371-0178, online, or by visiting the Central Ticket Service box office in the Eric Baker Nord Performing Arts Annex (67 N. Main St.) during business hours (noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday).
The opera is presented in two acts with a total time of approximately two hours, including intermission.
Please note: All Oberlin College and Conservatory students, employees, and guests are required to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more about Oberlin’s COVID-19 policies and precautions on the ObieSafe website.
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