Small palette, big picture: Handel’s Acis and Galatea in Cambridge

Handel’s “little opera” Acis and Galatea suffers from something of an identity crisis: it exists in three versions, and has also been put forward as a candidate for at least three genres: masque, opera or serenata. It is certainly an unusual piece: small, with a fast-paced but surprisingly simple plot taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and voiced by the disconcerting combination of one soprano, three tenors and a bass. An affectionate, consciously erudite atmosphere of wit and humour infuses both the music and John Gay’s libretto; although it went on to gain significant public popularity, Acis and Galatea feels above all like a drawing room piece, a clever little private joke whose frame of reference is just wide enough to include you too.

Click here to read my full review on Bachtrack.


August Ottin, Polyphème surprenant Galatée dans les bras d’Acis, 1866 [Luxembourg Gardens, Paris]

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