Thursday, January 29, 2015
Happy Nymphs and Happy Swains
The American Bach Soloists gave a series of vibrant, beautiful performances last week of Handel's early pastoral oratorio Acis and Galatea. The tale of the demi-god water-nymph Galatea (Nola Richardson) and her mutual love for the handsome young shepherd Acis (Kyle Stegall) is taken from Ovid. In the first act nothing happens at all except for the chorus praising the beauty of nature and sex, Galatea longing to see her beloved, and Acis pining away for Galatea.
At the end of the act, the two are joined together where they sing what may be the most beautiful earworm music of Handel's career, the duet "Happy, happy we."
They are eventually joined by the chorus who spin their own celebration of romantic pleasure with the same refrain. Somehow, I've made it through life without ever having heard this music before this month, and it was a delightful joy to get to know it through YouTube recordings and this live performance.
The second act has a lot of drama, with the giant monster Polyphemus, well-sung by Mischa Bouvier above, demanding Galatea's love and then killing Acis, which makes everyone very sad. Tenor Zachary Wilder, not pictured, also did a great job with the role of Damon, the sweet best friend who gives good advice that is ignored by everyone.
The American Bach Soloists organization started a summer teaching Academy at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music a few years ago, which has become the equivalent of the Merola/Adler programs at the San Francisco Opera. Both Nola Richardson and Kyle Stegall above were both standout students during recent Academy sessions and it's nice to see them being offered leading roles with the professional ensemble. Stegall in particular has a soulfulness to his singing that is something that can't be taught, and it was wonderful hearing the young tenor in a role that could have been written for him at this point in his career.