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Handel’s ‘Acis and Galatea’ Opens

March 18, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) _ Men don hats from ``Gilligan’s Island,″ women wear white summer dresses that could be out of the Emporio Armani catalog and they all play with sky-blue beach balls when not lounging in orange-colored folding chairs.

The ``Acis and Galatea″ that opened Saturday in the New York City Opera’s new production by Mark Lamos is not something Handel could have envisioned.

Led by the superb duo of Christine Brandes (Galatea) and William Burden (Acis), the sparkling production is a delight _ even the trees sparkle.

Handel wrote the 1 1/2-hour work with an English text in 1718 and called it a ``Masque,″ somewhere between an oratorio and an opera. The story, from Ovid’s ``Metamorphoses,″ is taken from a Sicilian myth in which the two lovers’ idyllic life is destroyed by the giant Polyphemus, who kills Acis. Galatea, who has divine power, then makes her lover immortal.

The set, by Paul Steinberg, has a female blue angel lounging on a metallic rock, looking a bit like Prometheus in the Rockefeller Center skating rink, and a rippled metallic background. The delightful lighting, by Robert Wierzel, changes from lemon yellows to lime greens to indigo blues, all shimmering off the rock and the trees.

In the first act, it makes for a light mood, a Yuppie picnic as men in chinos, shorts and sandals frolic with the women.

Polyphemus descends from the heavens in what at first looks like a flat-screen TV but in reality is a box containing a miniature of the entire set. He wears a dark jumpsuit, spiked red hear and a miner’s light that shines in bright red. (Constance Hoffman designed the costumes with the assistance of Jennifer Halpern).

Brandes and Burden are a cute and attractive couple. Her soprano and his tenor were both sweet but were not helped by the dead acoustics of the New York State Theater.

Bass-baritone Dean Elzinga sang Polyphemus in his company debut. He struggled, especially with his lower register, sounding woolly and dry. Tenor John Tessier, also making his company debut, also had a fresh, bright voice.

Conductor Jane Glover paced the work briskly, but the woodwinds struggled in a few spots. While the audience largely cheered the production team _ it was a co-production with Cooperstown’s Glimmerglass Opera _ there was a spattering of boos.

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