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John W Barker
American Record Guide, September 2010

As explained by director and choreographer Wayne McGregor in a ten-minute monolog “extra”, his goal was to explore new “layers of meaning” by integrating dance into “this opera”, and demonstrating timeless messages.

The singers and the chorus (which is not seen until the second act), “relevantly” garbed in present-day grubby street garb, are plunked down in a vaguely rural Arcadia, which is well stocked with stuffed animals. Slim and agile dancers, their flesh-colored body stockings conveying a kind of unisex nudity, gyrate about in motions mainly derived from classical ballet. The full troupe of 14 dancers cavort in erotic purity in the choruses and ritornellos, while each singing character has a solo-dancer counterpart, supposedly adding those “layers” of further expression.

Sometimes this layering comes off well. In the trio dance accompanying the climactic vocal trio, ‘The flocks shall leave the mountain’, the choreographic counterpart to the villain Polyphemus is a black male dancer (hmm...racial profiling?). The lovely ensemble representation of the flowing stream into which the slain Acis is transfigured is another such place. De Niese, herself a trained dancer, joins the dancer-Acis in a final pas de deux, symbolizing his ghostly survival in her love life...the music itself is well served. Using a fine period-instrument orchestra, conductor Hogwood projects Handel’s music with stylish honesty. He has even restored the usually neglected character of Coridon, who reclaims his solo, ‘Would you gain the tender creature’ normally annexed by Damon. As Acis, Workman offers youthful strength, if often static acting. I am surprised his role assignment was not switched with Agnew’s, always a singer of personality. Of course, De Niese is the star: her bright and operatic voice is joined with excellent English diction and spirited acting. But the other standout is Rose as “the monster Polypheme”. No cyclops, but a two-eyed brute, naked to the waist, looking like a scruffy Neanderthal man, Rose welds a fully able bass voice to acting that conveys the muddled mix of the threatening with the comical., May 2010

Overall, a highly successful fusion of song and dance, even though Handel didn’t actually plan it this way. In this respect it’s more in the spirit of the operas of Lully and Rameau, but there’s certainly nothing French about the music and the whole exercise is a credit to everyone involved.

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