Oakland University’s School of Music, Theater and Dance (OU-SMTD) presented “Acis and Galatea” by George Fredric Handel May 5-8 and May 12-15.
Originating in a Roman poem about the tragic and fleeting love between a shepherd, Acis, and a nymph, Galatea, the story begins with a lonely Galatea eager to find Acis, who feels the same way. The first act ends happily with the two lovers reuniting before their joy is interrupted by the jealous, one-eyed giant Polyphemus, who threatens their happiness and ends up killing Acis out of envy.
We are not all shepherds and nymphs whose great love is ruined by a Cyclops. This is something the OU-SMTD production of “Acis and Galatea” keeps in mind, so instead of mythological creatures, these characters are modern people like you and me.
The choice to give Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” a contemporary twist was smart – it gave the production a fresh take on something that might otherwise seem mundane and frankly unrelated. Director and vocal performance teacher Dr. Drake Dantzler did this as a way “to help fill in the theatrical and musical gaps.” This type of approach to production also makes it perfect for educating singers who have performed, as it makes Handel’s message much more accessible.
While updating the theatrical aspects to fit a more contemporary palate is exciting, it comes with its hurdles.
“The biggest obstacle to the modernization of this production […] is the threat of the update overshadowing the production itself,” Dantzler said.
The students of the production had the obligation to stay faithful to the text while telling the story in a different context. In my opinion, they succeeded.
Another production feat that elevated this particular production was the use of space. I’ve watched my fair share of shows in the theater studio here at OU, and I’d say it’s one of the most creative ways to use the space. The way this production was staged kept audience members engaged and added levels to the performance at hand – and while it wasn’t as cohesive as I think it could have been , it nevertheless caught my attention.
Also, the pit interacted with the characters – a detail I would have otherwise overlooked, but it added another layer to the show, making it more entertaining and fun to watch. It wasn’t just about the simple interactions between the pit musicians and the singers, but their inclusion throughout crucial story points (e.g., “Hush, pretty chirping choir,” “Where am I going am I looking for the charming fair?”, etc.) This added another dimension to the show, increasing its quality.
As far as musicality and performance go, the students who took part in this production were so wonderfully talented and a joy to watch and listen to. I may not be the biggest fan of opera, but OU-SMTD’s production of “Acis et Galatea” was more than a treat to watch.