Haymarket Opera Company 2020 Review: Acis and Galatea

What Happens When Musicians Come First in Hard Times

By Polina Lyapustina
(Credit: Anna Cillan)

They say people tend to see what they want, but the tremendous professionalism of the team at Haymarket Opera convinces me that what I see is real.

No matter how anxious we all are feeling these days, and how often the authorities and our own industry disappoint us, when I see people doing their job so brilliantly, without a hint of stagnation, I’m positive that opera will survive.

There are only two basic components which in hands of wonderful musicians turn your evening in front of the silver screen into a real modern opera experience.

The first is the legendary source — Handel’s hit “Acis and Galatea” which earned its fame over the centuries. The second is Haymarket Opera Company who sees its mission in inspiring the culturally vibrant community of the Midwest. And the organization decided to celebrate its tenth season by partnering with a top-notch video production company to present three new productions of Handel’s masterpieces.

Now, I know that some of you reading this are likely thinking, “Oh, video again.” Yes, there is a lot of video content out there and this glut of opera on video has likely saturated many who have spent the last few months doing nothing but watching opera on a computer screen.

But the creators from Haymarket are ready to fight this burdensome feeling.

It’s Just Different

It starts when you just visit the website page. On the page, you are immediately immersed in the world the organization wants to create. You can read bios, interviews, facts, which will enrich your perception of the performance, all lively and fresh, made for people by people. No officialdom. Nothing there reminds us of the old theatre — no need for this, not today.

Some of the things we had to toss overboard, recently proved their worthlessness, and so there’s no reason to transfer all of them into the new reality. Meanwhile, others are priceless, and one will easily determine what is essential for them.

The Haymarket team treasures the culture and aesthetics of the Age of Enlightenment, so regardless of how modern the approach is this time, you can be sure — the beauty of the period will be there.

The orchestra under the baton (or a bow?) of cellist Craig Trompeter kicks off the Simphonia. Here they are, socially distanced and protected by screens, wearing masks, and yet not struggling. The set comes to life with beautiful paintings by Zuleyka V. Benitez on the screens in front of musicians, but now, it is their — the orchestra’s — time. Everyone is important. We just watch them play, with long and detailed close-ups showing their work in progress. It’s not just a compilation of highlights. As such this period music orchestra instantly becomes closer and mundane in a good way, but the music remains still divine.

At that moment, I also come to the conclusion that that baroque pieces might facilitate the task. I cannot imagine any other musical style that brings so much mood and context without the support of visuals. Not a single intention of Handel’s work is lost while we watch masked orchestra members wearing black, in a modern hall, and separated by screens.

Then the choir of the nymphs takes us up from the ground and brings us to the heaven of bliss. You cannot refuse their heavenly voices. But for a moment, who are they? Just a modest distant line of singers wearing black. The singers are nymphs? Or the nymphs are singers? The more I look at them, the more I understand they are not acting. At all. The joy of the music is their real personal joy. They exclaim, “What a pleasure! Happy nymph!” And no one would argue the honesty of these emotions.

Immersing Us Deeper & Deeper

They are singers on stage, and today they are allowed not to hide behind their characters, and I see them enjoying what they do. And yet the self-awareness does not prevent them from experiencing and therefore transferring the real emotions of the characters. It happens with the main characters as well. The myth and the real lives of the musicians melt together in this performance.

And I enjoyed seeing both perspectives.

Galatea, as presented by soprano Kimberly Jones, was one word — joy. I haven’t heard such a gentle and rich voice this season. Michael St. Peter brings warmth and sincerity to the performance as Acis. Meanwhile, David Govertsen, the master of lower voiced roles, is a terrific Polyphemus. These singers displayed beautiful voices with lovely technique. But the main point is that standing mostly alone on stage, without acting, being themselves quite frequently, they built a complete picture of an old masterwork. Being separated, they work together.

The same goes for the choir, led by Kaitlin Foley who also possesses a bright and flexible voice of great capacity. Though one cannot deny the fact that Foley’s parts are tremendous, the choir work is a special highlight. It was so different and so perfectly combined. Mallory Harding, Ryan Townsend Strand, Jianghai Ho, and Dorian McCall. They deserve a standing ovation.

Well, maybe that’s is the one thing missing in this special project of Haymarket Opera Company. A standing ovation.

As the opera came to a triumphant close, I sat there reflecting quite a bit. If the opera world changes, if we watch the performances differently, and still feel the excitement of this Artform, how can we — the audience — praise, celebrate, and support the musicians? What is our part in this game?

I put a question mark there. But in fact, we all know the answer.


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