Nymphs and shepherds were the order of the day in the Guinness Storehouse this evening as Opera Theatre Company presented Handel’s Acis & Galatea as a part of the 2009 Dublin Handel Festival. The performance took place in the Atrium space in the storehouse to a relatively small sell-out audience of approx. 130 people. The space was surprisingly well-suited to the performance with ringing acoustics aiding the unamplified voices. This was particularly discernible during the chorus in the latter part of the performance as the instrument parts died off to reveal the natural reverb in the vocal parts. The huge block lettering of the signs on the walls of the atrium and the overwhelming size of the storehouse in general (beginning with the towering buildings overhanging Market Street on the walk in) was a successful match with the larger-than-life theatrics of the performance including large foam mountains forming the set.
The orchestra opened with a clean, light overture which resolved into the introduction to the nymphs and shepherds of the chorus. An initial imbalance between the volume of the louder orchestra and the chorus resolved for Nicola Mulligan’s first solo as Galatea. From the outset Mulligan was a sweet and delighted Galatea, even more so when her lover Acis (sung by Dean Power) appeared on the scene. At times during the evening the emotions felt forced and unconvincing but not so for the love scenes between Acis and Galatea. Power and Mulligan brought sincerity and an intense intimacy to their duets that was moving towards discomfort when they broke off with a glint in their eyes after a prolonged kiss.
At the introduction of the ogre Polyphemus (Gavan Ring) the lightness of the opening arias and chorus was replaced by a sinister tone reflected in the heavier rhythms of the orchestral parts. Ring’s voice was occasionally lost in the chorus but this was remedied in his solos as Polyphemus and he was exposed as a strong young voice in Irish opera. The puppet used to portray Polyphemus in the far distance drew a chuckle from the audience although the mood of the performance was decidedly serious until the death of Acis towards the end of the performance.
The original scoring by Handel only included one female part (in addition to three tenors and a bass) which would have been a shame in tonight’s rendition as one of the strongest performances came from chorus member Aoife O’Connell singing the part of a Nymph. O’Connell stood out from the outset as the strongest in the chorus and seemed to engage more readily than her fellow performers with both the material and the audience. I was surprised to discover after the performance that she’s only 20 years old, as her vocal range and confidence on stage equalled that of a seasoned performer.
Those of us (myself included) who didn’t know the details of the opera were left slightly bewildered by the ending as one of the mountains separated to display a dazzling, but unexplained, lights display. Listening closely to the words provided no clue and it wasn’t until reading the text later that I discovered the light display was the body of Acis transformed and immortalisted by Galatea using her demi-god abilities… Oh…
The experience as a whole was that of a pleasant evening’s entertainment, made sweeter by a free pint of Guinness in the Gravity Bar following the performance. As Opera Theatre Company’s CEO Kirsty Harris mentioned before the performance, the young voices heard tonight herald a promising future for Irish singing.
Remember to subscribe to TCBT’s blog to get more information on the 2009 Dublin Handel Festival