Major Operas | Acis and Galatea by George Frideric Handel | Late Baroque
While composing for the Earl of Carnarvon at Cannons, Handel was the musical contributor to a distinguished literary circle including the poets John Gay, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) and John Hughes (1677–1720).
It is believed that all three authors contributed to the libretto of Acis and Galatea, which was given a private staged performance that probably required only a dozen performers. One observer noted in his diary that it was ‘a little opera’. Its pastoral subject and chamber scoring are far removed from the spectacle and high drama of opera seria.
In an idyllic, pastoral setting, Galatea, a semi-divine sea-nymph, has fallen in love with Acis, a shepherd. She appeals to another shepherd, Damon, for assistance; with his help the two lovers are united and sing of their love for one another, accompanied by various nymphs and shepherds.
Act II begins with a more sinister atmosphere, as the chorus warns Acis and Galatea of the approach of Polyphemus, a sea monster. Inflamed by jealousy, Polyphemus threatens to force his love upon Galatea. Acis, ignoring Damon’s warnings, prepares to do battle with the fearsome monster. Acis and Galatea swear their eternal love, but their duet becomes a trio as they are interrupted by Polyphemus, who kills Acis. Galatea is heartbroken, but at this point is reminded by the chorus of her divine powers. She then transforms Acis into a beautiful fountain; everyone mourns Acis and sings of his immortality.
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