Open spaces

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  December 2, 2009

The Boston Early Music Festival's latest evening of chamber opera was Handel's exquisite early pastoral Acis and Galatea. Once again, stage-director-in-residence Gilbert Blin gave us opera as house party — which may be what the original Acis really was, with its plot probably an allegorical tribute to wealthy Lord Chandos and his wife. The busy staging, almost more about the house than the characters, was diverting but precious and too often distracted from the music. A major duet was upstaged by the hanging of a Poussin painting. In this original version, there's only one instrument per part, and the chorus consists of the five solo singers. Music directors Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs by necessity chose fleetness over heft. The playing was impeccable, though I missed some of the weighty solemnity of Handel's later version.

A sinus infection put the brilliant soprano Amanda Forsythe out of commission. Her understudy, Teresa Wakim, made a dignified Galatea with pretty high notes. But her singing — and diction — lacked Forsythe's incisiveness and sparkle. The accomplished cast included tenor Aaron Sheehan (Acis as foppish lord rather than infatuated shepherd), light-voiced bass Douglas Williams (a dashingly eye-patched rather than monstrously one-eyed Polyphemus), and tenors Jason McStoots (as Damon and Handel himself) and Zachary Wilder (a touching Coridon). But could anyone compete with Anne Watkins's fabulous 18th-century Project Runway couture?

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