Opera Scotland

Acis and Galatea

George Frideric Handel (born Halle, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759)

Attributed to John Gay, but probably a collaboration with others, including Pope and Hughes.

Ovid Metamorphoses Book XIII as translated by John Dryden (1717).


First performance: Cannons Park, Middlesex, Summer 1718.
Revised Version: London (Lincoln’s Inn Theatre), March 1731.
First performance in Scotland: Canongate Concert Hall, Edinbugh 26 March 1751.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.


The masque Acis and Galatea was first performed at the home of Handel’s friend the Duke of Chandos, though precisely when that occurred is less clear. It became one of the most popular of Handel’s works during his lifetime, and continued so well into the nineteenth century. On the continent it was adapted by Mozart, and also by Mendelssohn (whose edition was performed at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival). Acis and Galatea contains several of Handel’s most popular songs, including ‘Love in her eyes sits playing’ and ‘O ruddier than the cherry’. The style of performance is sometimes seen as a reaction against the dominance of elaborate Italianate opera in London during this period.


Galatea, a sea nymph (soprano)
Acis, a shepherd (tenor)
Damon, a shepherd, friend of Acis (tenor)
Polyphemus, a giant (bass)


Plot Summary
As is typical with the masque format, Acis and Galatea takes place in a classical Arcadian landscape inhabited by an appropriate chorus of nymphs and shepherds. The first act shows a carefree pastoral idyll illustrating the development of love between Acis and Galatea. In the second act Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant (i.e. Cyclops), interrupts them. He is infatuated with Galatea. Acis, against the advice of his friend Damon, prepares to fight the giant, but in a fit of rage Polyphemus hurls a rock at Acis and kills him. Galatea transforms Acis into a stream.

The Cast

 a shepherd
 a shepherd, friend of Acis
 a nymph
 a giant

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