Acis and Galatea

2 October 2017, Project Prima Volta, Blyth Performing Arts Centre
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival

Performing Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea to a sell-out audience on Monday night, were Project Prima Volta (PPV) supported by the National Youth Orchestra.  This production was a modern take on a classical opera with Handel’s original score and text juxtaposed against a contemporary setting of computers and androids.

Held at the Blyth Performing Arts Centre at Iona College in Havelock North, the evening started with an introduction from five members of PPV (all high-school students from Hawke’s Bay), explaining the nature of their project: a year-long programme of coaching and mentoring, culminating in the staged performance of a classical opera.

The original story tells of the Goddess Galatea, who is loved by both the mortal Acis and the Cyclops Polyphemus.  Polyphemus becomes jealous of Acis and kills him with a boulder.  Galatea realises she has the power to immortalise Acis and turns him into an eternal fountain.  In tonight’s performance, Galatea (played by Isabella Smith) is portrayed as a mortal scientist, who creates the android Acis (Jordan Fuimaono) and falls in love with him.  It is the simple, revengeful act of Polyphemus removing the chip from Acis, that ends his life and his connection with Galatea forever.

Although many of Handel’s words seem almost disconnected to this modern version, quotes such as “You enjoy but half the blessing; lifeless charms without the heart” hit home with a deeper truth as they conjure up imaged of soulless androids.  Whereas Handel examined the relationship between immortal and human, this modern take explores the contemporary issues of love in a digital world.

Have I heard better opera? Certainly.  Have I enjoyed live opera more before? No.  This was truly an outstanding production.  All soloists gave polished performances, proving true dedication to their art and showing many hours of practice. The stand-out voice of the night for me was that of Polyphemus (Samuel McKeever).  Not only was his singing rich, McKeever’s portrayal of his character brought humour to the stage.  The chorus played their parts as androids convincingly and added welcomed volume and harmony.  Their singing was a definite highlight of the night.

The orchestra, usually hidden in the pit, was in full view of the audience, which added an extra dimension to the experience.  The twelve musicians played seamlessly and the unique sound of the harpsichord connected the present-day performance with the original composition from 1718.

And when the curtain fell –  after a spectacularly-choreographed resurrection of Acis – the lights revealed an audience already on its feet in standing ovation.


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