Acis and Galatea at the Buxton Opera Festival

My first opera in a theatre since March 2020 and – you might have thought – a splendid choice for the occasion: Handel’s zestful, melodic and touching piece, Acis and Galatea, in Buxton’s lovely Opera House. The performance was sold out although, with Covid restrictions, the auditorium was less than half full. There was an atmosphere of friendly warmth in the audience, no doubt fuelled by relief at normality being partially restored, but what they saw can hardly have reinforced good humour.

Martin Constantine’s production was, in short, an awful mess. Rather than play the work as a simple parable, he attempted to invest it with “significant” commentary. The action was framed as a symposium on themes of love, jealousy and pleasure, these being illustrated by the characters expressing their emotions while interacting on a platform. But the concept was not developed satisfactorily and, as the evening progressed, seemed to have been abandoned. More irritatingly, there were unceasing back projections which -if you could make sense of them – were usually irrelevant and, on the stage, an accumulation of distracting objects with and around which the singers had to clamber. All of this marred the impact of Handel’s mellifluous score.

Given this major handicap, one must make allowances for some shortcomings in the soloists. The Acis, Samuel Boden, has a sweet tenor but it needed more volume. Anna Dennis, as Galatea, sang with conviction and characterised the role in an interesting way, although in terms of vibrato and tone, the voice was not ideal for the Handelian lines. While Edward Grint blustered unremittingly loudly as Polyphemus, Jorge Navarro Colorado in the roles of Damon and Coridon sang with elegance and purity of tone – the vocal highlight of the evening.

Christian Curnyn, at the head of the impressive Early Opera Company Orchestra, was sure-footed in his approach but, perhaps influenced by Constantine’s take on the work, the performance lacked some of the light wistfulness of Handel’s music.