Dallas — Dallas Bach Society excels at bringing rarely heard music from the Baroque period to audiences in the DFW Metroplex. Such was the case Sunday afternoon at Caruth Auditorium on the SMU campus, when DBS launched a concert version of Handel’s pastoral opera Acis and Galatea. This charming pastoral relays the tale, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, of the sea-nymph Galatea, sung by soprano Rebecca Beasley and her love for the shepherd Acis, performed by countertenor Scot R. Cameron.
As you might expect if you’ve read much Ovid, this love affair doesn’t go smoothly. Despite a reliable advisor in his fellow-shepherd Damon (Kevin Sutton), Acis is felled by the jealous Cyclops Polyphemus (David Grogan). Yes, this is the same Polyphemus whom Odysseus blinds in The Odyssey. The chorus, comprised of the four soloists plus a bonus tenor, Peter Tiggelaar, remind the grieving Galatea that she’s a goddess and has some superpowers. She can’t turn Acis back into a shepherd, but she can turn him into a “bubbling fountain,” “Murm’ring still thy gentle love.”
There’s only one problem: if you were at Sunday’s DBS production, you would not have known any of this. Although Artistic Director James Richman did talk about the plot a bit from the stage, the only program notes concerned the first performance and biographies of soloists. Desperately needed were a plot synopsis and a libretto within the program, or projected supertitles. (DBS has tried the latter in Caruth before, with mixed results.)
Vocal soloists were somewhat uneven, with standout performances by countertenor Scot R. Cameron as Acis and bass David Grogan as the monstrous Polyphemus. (His seriocomic cry of “Die, presumptuous Acis, die!” served as the dramatic highlight of the production.) Rebecca Beasley, who clearly has a fine grasp of Baroque performance practice in her sparing use of vibrato, made a fine Galatea. Kevin Sutton as Damon unfortunately sounded as if he was getting a cold—his voice was somewhat hoarse and he occasionally struggled with pitch.
Instrumentalists were likewise excellent. The notoriously fickle Baroque instruments sometimes present even these expert performers with difficulties, but the occasional squeak or squawk is part of the bargain. Musical quality was high, though, with crisp phrasing and cutoffs and uniform ideas about Baroque performance practice (such as sparing but not absent vibrato in the strings). Especially delightful was Baroque oboist and recorder player William Thauer’s turn on sopranino recorder in the air “Hush, ye pretty warbling quire.” This tiny high-pitched recorder represents birds chirping (the “warbling quire”). Thauer’s tone and phrasing were top-notch; I’d listen to those birds anytime.
This isn’t the first DBS performance at Caruth that has been sparsely attended; it’s unfortunate, because the quality is consistently good, and audience members get to hear music, such as Acis and Galatea, that we would seldom see performed otherwise. Making these concerts more accessible for the average audience member by, in this case, focusing on the narrative, might generate more buzz and larger audiences.