In 'Acis and Galatea,' Love Hits a High Note

Winning the affections of your crush is no easy task—especially if you’re a cyclops sticking out like a sore thumb among beautiful nymphs and shepherds. But that’s not to say such a challenging endeavor isn’t interesting to watch. The classic love triangle rises to a whole new level in the pastoral opera “Acis and Galatea,” which ran at the Agassiz Theater between Dec 4 and Dec 8. The show tells the story of the beautiful nymph Galatea and her lover Acis, whose happiness is threatened when blundering, one-eyed Polyphemus fancies the beautiful nymph for himself.   

Adapted from an ancient Greek tale, the opera was composed by George Frideric Handel during the Baroque period.  Despite its age, the production remains popular, proving its appeal to a modern audience just as much as to 18th-century viewers.

Most responsible for the opera’s timelessness is its sheer emotional power, cast and crew members noted. “The show has some real pathos to it,” director Chiemeka E. Ezie ’15 says. “There are so many different emotions that the audience can connect to, which goes to show that the most basic elements of the human condition have stayed the same over the years.”

According to Charlotte L. McKechnie ’15, who played Galatea, this powerful connection between the audience and performers can also be traced to the sheer range of the production’s emotional spectrum. “[The opera] draws out the most carnal elements of human nature. Intense love, intense grief, intense jealousy, intense rage. It has the most tumultuous emotions I’ve ever had to express,” McKechnie says.

The universality of such emotions transcends even the opera’s more antiquated themes, such as chivalry. “Sure, people don’t go around dueling anymore. What’s compelling about the show is that the characters are so in love that they’re willing to put it all on the line,” Ezie says. “Anyone who’s experienced love and loss can connect to that.”


The driving force behind the production’s pathos is the music itself. Music director Max P. Phillips ’15 says that the characters’ arias and instrumental melodies subtly build upon the stage directions to convey the atmosphere of the story and the defining moods and personalities of each character. “Take the symphonia. It captures the dominating tone of the opera. It’s cheerful, but the mournful oboe at the end hints that something worrisome is going on in the end,” Phillips says.

Even the manner in which certain instruments are played is essential to the experience. For instance, the long-held base pedals create flowing notes that evoke the bubbly sound of the river. Actors sing their parts with the same keen eye for detail. “Ian [Polyphemus] uses this hemiola rhythmic device in which the rhythm of the melody does not match up with the meter,” Phillips says. “This does a good job of evoking the lumbering awkwardness of the giant.”

According to McKechnie, the music and actors work together to create an enthralling experience that is powerful enough to engage even first-time opera goers. After all, despite the arcane subtlety of the music, the opera’s themes are far-reaching and universal: “Everyone will react to the way the show cuts to the heart of being human and mortal,” McKechnie says.

More importantly, she says, the opera leaves the audience with a compelling question: how far are we willing to go for the people we love?


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