Aci, Galatea e Polifemo – 4 July

Handel
Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

Aci – Mhairi Lawson
Galatea – Hilary Summers
Polifemo – João Fernandes

Early Opera Company Orchestra
Christian Curnyn


Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 4 July, 2003
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This performance of Handel’s serenata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo was far more enjoyable than that of Susannah, which I reviewed last month. That had been tarnished by an aggravating, distracting, silly production whereas this was a concert performance with singers in front of the nine instrumentalists, and well did they all sing or play.

The instruments were mainly of the stringed variety, with the violinists Catherine Martin and Hannah Tibell and Emilia Benjamin with her viola providing most of the accompaniment in arias, though stylish continuo-playing and Zilla Gilman’s ability on the oboe contributed much to the enjoyment under Christian Curnyn’s leadership.

Aci, an early work of Handel, written during his Italian period, pre-dates the more famous Acis and Galatea by a decade or so. No arias are common to both. The character of Damon, who appears in the English work, is absent from the earlier composition, which is in the recitative/aria style, with an opening duet and three trios. The male role of Aci is allotted to a soprano, whereas Galatea is for contralto and Polifemo for bass. The language is Italian.

All three singers were in fine form. Mhairi Lawson’s lyric soprano easily encompassed Aci’s bravura arias, and her clear tone added beauty to slower ones. The long “Qui l’augel” (“Here the bird flies happily”), with its held notes, was one of the highlights of her performance. Contrasting in dark tone was Hilary Summers, whose rich contralto, smoothly produced, was pliant in long divisions. Both Lawson and Summers are known quantities, which is not to undervalue their contributions, but a name new to me was that of João Fernandes, a 29-year-old bass from Zaire, who has just graduated from the Opera Course at the Guildhall School. His CV in the programme mentions a number of assignments that he has undertaken. He is certainly someone who deserves to be heard again. Apart from a couple of slips in the awkwardly angular, wide-ranging “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori”, he sang with assurance, his voice moving easily, and in ornate passages he was not reduced to using aspirates.

On 21 November at the Wigmore Hall, the Early Opera Company will be presenting Hasse’s Marc’ Antonio e Cleopatra. Let us hope that it will be performed as Aci was: as a concert.

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