Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 9th of August 2009 at 3 - 4.25 pm
HANDEL: Acis & Galatea, a pastoral opera in two acts
Galatea, a semi-divine nymph........Julia Kleiter
Acis, a shepherd................. Christoph Prégardien
Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant....Wolf Matthias Friedrich
Damon, another shepherd............... Michael Slattery
NDR Chorus, Göttingen Festival Orch/Nicholas McGegan
(recorded in the Stadhalle, Göttingen)
If you think you don't know this opera, I am here to say that you will be surprised, because there are several bits you have already heard separately on the radio or at concerts. How about the song in which the monster Polyphemus expresses his (jealous) love for Galatea? This is usually sung by the British basso Owen Brannigan.
"O ruddier than the cherry, O sweeter than the berry, O nymph more bright than moonshine night, like kidlings blithe and merry." (I always fail to catch the word 'blithe', so it is good to see it in writing.) "Ripe as the melting cluster, no lily has such lustre; yet hard to tame as raging flame, and fierce as storms that bluster! Whither, fairest, art thou running, still my warm embraces shunning?"
When the monocular Cyclops Polyphemus sees Acis and Galatea exchanging smiles in close proximity to each other, he rocks him to sleep, that is, he rolls a boulder which gets bolder and bolder, and crushes him to death.
To immortalize her lover, Galatea converts Acis into a bubbling fountain whose waters stream over the landscape, murmuring his love for her.
Other familiar pieces are: "Happy, happy we" (love duet). Damon's advice to the giant on gentle wooing (with its lavender blue dilly dilly introduction): "Would you gain the tender creature, softly, gently, kindly treat her: suff'ring is the lover's part."
The words of the libretto are mostly by John Gay (later to write The Beggar's Opera).
This was Handel's only opera in English (1719), but he had previously produced an Italian cantata on the same subject, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (Naples 1708). Handel had a period of English oratorio production, but Acis and Galatea appeared in the midst of his thirty years (1711 - 1741) of staging his numerous Italian operas, in which time he was competing with Bononcini.
The poet John Byrom (1692-1763), in a poem about the musical rivalry of the composers Giovanni Bononcini and George Frideric Handel in London, called them Tweedledum and Tweedledee:
Some say, that Signor Bononcini,
Compared to Handel's a mere ninny;
Others aver, that to him Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a candle.
Strange! that such high dispute should be
'Twixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
The characters Tweedledum and Tweedledee make their appearance in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass as well. Ultimately the names are of imitative origins, from tweedle (to produce a high-pitched sound) + dum (sound of a low musical note) and dee (sound of a high musical note). [Anu Garg, A Word a Day, firstname.lastname@example.org]