The Stony Brook Opera and Baroque Players, under the direction of Arthur Haas, will present George Frideric Handel’s great operatic masterpiece, Acis and Galatea, on Friday, February 11, at 8:00 pm in Staller Center’s Recital Hall. A second performance will be held on Sunday, February 13, at 3:00 pm in the Southampton Cultural Center.
This “pastoral entertainment” has become Handel’s most popular vocal work, with hundreds of performances since its premiere in 1718. It is filled with memorable tunes and dramatic choruses as it relates the myth commemorating the immortal love between Acis and Galatea, whose plans were thwarted by the one-eyed monster Polyphemus.
The story is first told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, book xiii. As the work opens, the nymph-goddess, Galatea, is separated from her lover, the shepherd Acis. They sing of their frustration of being apart. Their joyful reuniting is, however, short-lived, as Galatea is also being pursued by the Cyclops monster, Polyphemus. As the two lovers continue their courtship, while hiding from Polyphemus, he, alas discovers them, and in his rage, hurls a large rock that crushes Acis. Galatea grieves the loss of Acis, but then assumes her role as goddess and transforms her lover into a bubbling stream, ever roaming through the fields he loved, thus making him immortal.
What has made this work so enduring over the centuries is Handel’s sophisticated treatment of the characters and their changing emotions. Innocent physical love turns into a profound immortal relationship as Galatea more and more assumes her god-like role. Against impossible odds, Acis challenges Polyphemus’ power. And the Cyclops, too, transforms from a love-sick buffoon into a raging murderous monster. Even the chorus becomes an important part of the unfolding drama.
The Stony Brook performance will be offered free of charge to the public, with a modest donation requested to benefit early music at Stony Brook.