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HANDEL Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

Serenata a tre
Produced by
A co-production of
LAUREN SNOUFFER, soprano (Aci)
ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO, countertenor (Galatea)
DAVÓNE TINES, bass-baritone (Polifemo)
Conducted by
Directed by
MARK GREY, video and sound design
SETH REISER, lighting design
TERESE WADDEN, costume design
PAUL TATE DE POO III, set design
CORI ELLISON, dramaturg
IAN WINTERS, video adaptation consultant
THOMAS SOTO, supertitle operator
DAVID COLL, video operator
KEVIN KORTH, rehearsal accompanist
Set built by CHAD OWENS
Presented and recorded at ODC Theater in San Francisco
January 2020
Recording production, engineering, editing and mastering: David v.R. Bowles (Swineshead Productions, LLC)
Production assistant: Boby Borisov
Video production: Tal Skloot (Tritone Media)
Philharmonia is pleased to recognize

Anne & Jeffrey Katz

as the Official Sponsors of Aci, Galatea e Polifemo.


Aci, Galatea e Polifemo is made possible with generous support from
David Low & Dominique Lahaussois
Mark Perry & Melanie Peña
Dr. Ross E. Armstrong Baroque Vocal Works Fund
The Bernard Osher Foundation

This production is supported in part by an award from the
National Endowment of the Arts

Program Notes


by Cori Ellison

The ancient mythical tale of Acis and Galatea is a parable of steadfast love finally prevailing against all obstacles. This is why it has been told and retold since at least 400 BC, from the ancient Greeks through Ovid, through Lully, Handel (twice!), and Haydn, through Raphael and Redon, up until the present day’s revivals and reimaginings. The 23-year-old Handel composed this (his first version of the story) to a libretto by Nicola Giuvo, in Naples in 1708, commissioned by an Italian
duchess to celebrate her niece’s wedding. It’s such a dazzling harbinger of Handel’s Italian operatic style it’s no wonder that he later often raided it for arias to insert in operas including Agrippina (1709), Rinaldo (1711), Teseo (1713), Poro (1733), and Atalanta (1736). Ten years after writing Aci and resettled in Great Britain, Handel made a completely different and better known English-language setting of the Acis story in quintessentially English pastoral masque style, on a text by John Gay.

Myths spring from humankind’s collective unconscious, which is why they endure. Set in a timeless past, they help to shape, express, and sustain a culture’s deepest common ethos, remaining rich enough to offer different resonances for the challenges of different eras. Our production of Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo finds parallels between Handel’s youthful telling of Ovid’s tale and our current era, defined as it is by class and power, which ultimately cannot bully or buy love. Technology notwithstanding, the human heart never changes.



by Bruce Lamott


The plot is taken from Book XIII of Metamorphoses of Ovid (43 BCE–17/18 CE), where Galatea recounts her ordeal while Scylla, another beautiful sea nymph
combs her hair. She describes the shepherd Acis as “handsome, and having marked his sixteenth birthday, a faint down covered his tender cheeks.” Polyphemus,
son of Neptune, is an enormous Cyclops who immodestly describes himself thus: “Luxuriant hair hangs over my face…And do not consider it ugly for my whole body to be bristling with thick prickly hair…I only have one eye in the middle of my forehead, but it is as big as a large shield.”

Galatea says, “I sought [Acis], the Cyclops sought me, endlessly. If you asked, I could not say which was stronger in me, hatred of Cyclops, or love of Acis; both of them were equally strong.” While lying in her lover’s arms, Galatea hears Polyphemus sing a song that commends her assets (“more flowery than the meadows, friskier than a tender kid, more radiant than crystal.” etc.) and liabilities (“wilder than an untamed heifer, harder than an ancient oak, trickier than the sea,” etc.) and attempts to lure her by boasting of his fruit crops, his flocks, his appearance (see above), and her potential father-in-law, Neptune.

Likening Polyphemus to a raging bull, Galatea tells of his fury upon discovering the lovers, whom he tells it will be the last celebration of their love. The terrified Galatea dives into the sea while Acis pleads for her aid before being completely buried by a rock hurled by the Cyclops. Seeping beneath the stone, the blood of Acis turns into a river—the “metamorphosis” of Ovid’s title—and from a fissure in the rock, Acis emerges as a river-god.


During Handel’s visit to Naples from early May to mid-July in 1708, he is presumed to have written Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo for the wedding of Tolomeo Saverio Gallio, the fifth duke of Alvito, to Beatrice Tocco di Montemiletto, commissioned by the bride’s aunt Donna Aurora Sanseverino. On the final page of his autograph Handel writes “Napoli li 16 di Giugnio. 1708. d’Alvito.” The wedding was three days later. Later performances in 1711 and 1713 indicate that the librettist was Donna Aurora’s private secretary and literary advisor, Nicola Giuvo.

Despite its common origin in Ovid and trio of leading roles, the Italian Aci bears little resemblance to Handel’s more familiar English masque, Acis and Galatea, written ten years later for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons and performed by Philharmonia with choreography by Mark Morris in 2014. The menacing presence of Polifemo looms over the lovers from the start and bears no resemblance to the comically caricatured Polyphemus in the later work. There is no music common to both works, though Handel did produce a hybrid Italian/English version in London in 1732—with eight numbers from Aci, eleven from the Cannons Acis, and eleven other numbers—that he revived five times, but is rarely performed.

Handel was known to tailor his works to suit the abilities of individual singers, but who sang the original Aci is subject to scholarly disagreement, though it is likely that Handel cast a female soprano in the male role of Aci and a mezzo-soprano castrato as Galatea. The extraordinary range and technical demands indicate that Polifemo was written for an exceptional bass, probably Don Antonio Manna, who sang the role in a 1711 performance.

Variously called an extended cantata or serenata—both indicating a multimovement work with few soloists and orchestra, Aci has no overture. This performance uses Handel’s Ouverture to the opera Agrippina, written for Venice the following year. The orchestration is minimal, with two recorders, one oboe, and two trumpets augmenting the strings and continuo group of harpsichord, theorbo, and lute.

The arias for Aci and Galatea are mostly cast in the customary three-part (A-B-A) form known as the da capo aria, most of which require elaborate prolongations of words (coloratura). The texts are brief, usually two sentences or ideas, and the instrumental accompaniments reflect both the emotion or affect of the character as well as “painting” the imagery of the text, such as Aci’s description birds flying from tree to tree, the pulsating of his dying heart, or Galatea’s description of ocean waves. Connecting the arias are declamatory recitatives that serve as dialogue, and accompanied recitatives (accompagnato) that act as soliloquys.

The most sharply drawn character is Polifemo, first introduced with an aria of braggadocio, with wide vocal leaps, orchestral flourishes, and flashy coloratura. His second aria evokes noble restraint as he adopts the manners of a suitor, albeit a threatening one. Polifemo is the most self-aware—as he is in Ovid—when he describes his own rabid and precipitous anger. But, upon losing Galatea, he compares himself to a dying moth, devoid of peace or pleasure, in an astonishing aria that encompasses two-and-a-half octaves (from D below the bass clef to second-space A in the treble clef), eliciting our pity for the hapless monster. His final soliloquoy is a further self-revelation as contemplates his own situation while narrating the last words of Aci.

About the Artists

Nicholas McGegan


Lauren Snouffer


Anthony Roth Costanzo


Davóne Tines


Christopher Alden




Grey is an Emmy Award winning sound designer and composer who made history as the first sound designer for The New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall (On the Transmigration of Souls, 2002, which also won the Pulitzer Prize in Music) and
The Metropolitan Opera (Doctor Atomic, 2008, Nixon in China, 2011, Death of Klinghoffer, 2014, The Merry Widow, 2015, Bluebeard’s Castle/Iolanta, 2015, L’Amour de Loin, 2016). He has collaborated with composer John Adams, and several others, for nearly three decades. He designed and toured extensively with Kronos Quartet for nearly 15 years. His sound designs have been heard throughout most major concert halls, HD simulcast theatres and opera houses worldwide. As a composer, his grand opera Frankenstein recently premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels, as well premieres with Atlanta Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic.



Seth Reiser is a lighting and set designer who works in theatre, opera, dance and music. In the Bay Area Seth’s work has been seen at San Francisco Symphony where he designed The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and regular designs in the Sound Box, and at ACT where he designed the lighting for Between Riverside and Crazy, directed by Irene Lewis. Recently with Christopher Alden, Seth designed the lighting for a new production of Peter Eötvös’ opera Tri Sestri at the Ural Opera in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Other credits include: Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus at Festival d’Automne, directed by Peter Sellars; Hans Werner Henze’s El Cimmarron at Fesitval Impulso directed by Robert J. Castro; Bernstein’s Mass with the LA Philharmonic directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer; Sufjan Stevens’ Round Up at BAM; Messiaen’s Des Canyon Aux Etoiles with St. Louis Symphony, directed by Deb O’Grady, at the Sydney Opera House and the Barbican in London. Mr. Reiser received his B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University and his M.F.A. at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.



Terese Wadden is a Brooklyn, NY-based costume designer. Recent credits include Cosi fan Tutte (Santa Fe Opera), Oklahoma! (Broadway and St. Ann’s Warehouse), Bard Summerscape’s production of Peter Pan, A Quiet Place (Curtis Institute of Music), Acquanetta (Bard Summerscape and Prototype Festival), and The Wake World (Opera Philadelphia). She has designed costumes for Il Farnace (Spoleto Festival USA), Dr. Atomic (Curtis Institute of Music), David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (Perez Museum, Miami and Jack Shainma Gallery at The School, Kinderhook, NY), Philip Glass’s In The Penal Colony (Boston Lyric Opera), Pyramus and Thisbe (Canadian Opera Company), and the Handel operas Orlando
and Alcina (WhiteBox Art Center). Her work has been seen at the Glimmerglass Festival, Tanglewood, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Opera Theater, New York City Opera, Opera Colorado, Central City Opera, Portland Opera, Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Mark Taper Forum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, National Sawdust, LA Opera at RedCat, and the San Francisco Opera.



Paul Tate dePoo III is an internationally renowned scenic and projections designer based in New York designing in theatre, opera, film, dance, circus, music, fashion, architecture, and interiors. In addition to his US-based work, dePoo’s designs have appeared globally in Seoul, Bogota, Vienna, Toronto, and London. Notable credits include Titanic (Seoul, D.C, Broadway), The Who’s Tommy (Kennedy Center), Così Fan Tutti (Santa Fe Opera), Turandot (Oper Im Steinbruch, Vienna), Demon (Bard Opera), Trouble in Tahiti (Boston Lyric Opera), the MUNY’s Centennial Opening Ceremonies, and the world’s largest TEDx Talk (Boston Opera House). dePoo is also the resident scenic and projection designer for The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Centerstage Series, and has worked extensively at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Signature Theatre, Goodspeed Opera, Bard Opera, Curtis Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, The MUNY, and is a member of Cirque du Soleil’s Creative Cognoscenti.



Producer and production director Cath Brittan is originally from Manchester, England, she spent 15 years in Vienna before landing in California in 2015. Recent and upcoming productions include Glass Handel (Opera Philadelphia, St John the Divine, BBC Proms, Tasmania Festival), Comet Poppea (dir. Yuval Sharon), Amadigi de Gaula (dir. Louisa Muller) all with Anthony Roth Costanzo; Das Paradies und die Peri, LA Philharmonic and Peter Sellars; 2018/19 and 19/20 Soundbox Season, San Francisco Symphony; Orphic Moments dir. Zack Winokur with The Master Voices; Abraham In Flames (composer Aleksandra Vrebalov); Arkhipov (composer Peter Knell); Birds in the Moon (composer Mark Grey); Ihpigenia (Wayne Shorter & Esperanza Spalding); In a Grove (Composer Christopher Cerrone); Bernstein’s Mass, LA Philharmonic & The Lincoln Center, Tristan & Isolde Santa Fe Opera (director Zack Winokur). Cath is also the producer for AMOC*, the American Modern Opera Company (Artistic Directors: Zack Winokur & Matt Aucoin).



Cori Ellison, a leading creative figure in the opera world, is staff Dramaturg at Santa Fe Opera, and has previously served in that role at the Glyndebourne Festival and New York City Opera. She has been production dramaturg for projects including L’incoronazione di Poppea at Cincinnati Opera; Orphic Moments at Salzburg Landestheater, National Sawdust, and Master Voices; Washington National Opera’s Ring cycle; Opera Boston’s The Nose; and Offenbach!!! at Bard Summerscape. Active in developing contemporary opera, she teaches dramaturgy for American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program and has been developmental dramaturg to numerous composers, librettists, and commissioners including Canadian Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Arizona Opera, and Beth Morrison Projects. She is a member of the Vocal Arts Faculty at The Juilliard School and Ravinia Steans Music Institute and has taught and lectured for schools, performance organizations, and media outlets worldwide. She creates supertitles for opera companies across the English-speaking world, and helped launch Met Titles, the Met’s simultaneous translation system.

The Chamber Players

Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players


Elizabeth Blumenstock, concertmaster
Andrea Guarneri, Cremona, 1660; on loan from Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Period Instrument Trust

Katherine Kyme
Carlo Antonio Testore, Milan, Italy, 1720


Jessica Troy
Timothy Johnson, Hewitt, Texas, 2006; after Andrea Guarneri, Cremona, Italy c. 1676


William Skeen
Anonymous, Northern Italy, ca. 1680
Osher Cello Chair Endowment


Kristin Zoernig
Joseph Wrent, Rotterdam, Holland, 1648


Marc Schachman
A. Vas Dias, Decatur, Georgia, 2001; after T. Stanesby, England, c. 1710

David Dickey
Randy Cook, Basel, Switzerland, 2008; after Jonathan Bradbury, London, England, c. 1720


David Dickey
Von Heune, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016; after Stanesby, Jr.


Danny Bond
Peter de Koningh, Hall, Holland, 1978; after Prudent, Paris, France, c. 1760


John Thiessen
Rainer Egger, Basel, Switzerland, 2003; after J. L. Ehe, Nuremburg, Germany, 1746 

Kathryn Adduci
Rainer Egger, Basel, Switzerland, 2006; after L. Ehe, Nuremburg, Germany, 1748


Arash Noori
Michael Schreiner, Toronto, Canada, 2017; after
Sebastian Schelle, 1728

Adam Cockerham
Klaus Jacobsen, London/Turin, 2017; after Sellas


Nicholas McGegan
John Phillips, Berkeley, 1996; after Giusti, Italy, 17th century
Generously lent by Nicholas McGegan and David
v.R. Bowles

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