Morris’ synopsis is short and sweet. So what takes so long? The glorious dancing and singing, of course. Music by George Frideric Handel, arranged by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Libretto by John Gay, with Alexander Pope and John Hughes. Direction and choreography by Mark Morris. Nicholas McGegan conducting the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale. Yulia Van Doren as Galatea, Thomas Cooley as Acis, Isaiah Bell as Damon, and Douglas Williams as Polyphemus.
I got to the theater with just minutes to spare (and missed Morris’ talk before the show) because I decided to take the bus for a change of pace. Never again unless I leave myself double the amount of time I think it’s going to take.
McGegan was sitting on the conductor’s stand talking with the first violinist. At first I didn’t realize he was the conductor because of his green metallic shirt and no jacket. I noticed the musicians were all in black but some dressed very casually. For the overture, McGegan simply stood up and started conducting. There was no walk on or applause.
The first thing you notice are Isaac Mizrahi’s beautiful costumes. Green and white flowing skirts on both the men and women that they use to convey flowing water, ruffling breezes, and mighty trees. Van Doren and Cooley sing and move among the nymphs and swains, who both love and protect them. Van Doren has a moving clear soprano and Cooley is a cool tenor. Bell is a very sweet tenor whose warnings go unheeded. The first act is all sweetness and light as the lovers play games in the woods.
The second half is dark – both the music and scenery foreshadow the tragedy to come. Williams entrance is big with all the nymphs and swains imitating him before his arrival. You know he’s a nasty monster before he even arrives but then he has the nymphs and swains march before him and he touches each inappropriately and throws them to the side.
The transformation of Galatea’s pain at the end as she uses her powers to transform Acis into a river so that they can be together forever is so beautiful and heartbreaking.
There were some lovely moments such as when the chorale was talking to Galatea directly (rather than to the audience) and they turned their back on us to face her. I heard it before I looked down and saw they had changed positions. The original baroque instruments are a joy to hear. It is a different experience watching the dancers and musicians work in sync. No pre-recorded track could make each moment as special as that.
For photos of the costumes and scenery, go to the official site at http://www.acisandgalatea.org.
By Carene Lydia Lopez