Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and bass-baritone Davóne Tines starred in Handel’s serenata called Aci, Galatea e Polifemo in Brooklyn in 2017, and they’re now joined by soprano Lauren Snouffer and the Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players, led by Nicholas McGegan for a work that brings a mythological tale into the age of #MeToo.
There’s more information at the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra website.
“It’s basically like a Cliff’s Notes Handel opera,” Costanzo says. “It’s 90 minutes, there are three characters, but it has all the dramatic peaks and valleys, all of the beautiful music. And it struck me as this incredible piece that we could really dramatize in a way that almost felt contemporary.” Anthony Roth Costanzo says as a countertenor, there aren’t all that many works for him in the most popular operatic repertoire, and so he’s had to carve out his own path, which has included producing as well as singing, and this lesser-known mini-opera that Handel wrote for a wedding seemed to fit the bill. In 2017, he teamed with director Christopher Alden for this critically-acclaimed staging of Aci at National Sawdust. “What we’ve created together is this piece that really looks at brutality, sexual abuse and power dynamics in a way which connects to today, but is also the exact language and the exact music that Handel wrote.” In the original, a water nymph named Galatea and Acis, the shepherd are in love, only to have Polephemus, the cyclops emerge from the water and pursue Galatea. “In our production, Acis and Galatea are both cleaners in this rich lord’s bathroom, basically, which is where the whole thing takes place, with a chandelier and a fancy bathtub, and Dutch tile. Polyphemus enters, and it becomes clear that he wants to have sex with Galatea. And if these cleaners say no to their master, you know, whether they’re undocumented, or whatever they are, they’re out of a job, and they need that job.” The power and sexual balance is further tipped by the casting, with a female soprano singing the role of Acis, and Costanzo singing Galatea. “The first thing we had to think about is that I was going to be playing the woman, and did we want to deal with gender that way, and we decided no. We would just flip the genders and not worry about it. And that’s a… sort of very contemporary lens, but it works remarkably well.”