Acis & Galatea 仙侶与巨人
I staged Handel's Acis & Galatea as a dance-opera for the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Acis & Galatea was originally a serenata consisting mainly of da capo arias with short recitatives in between. The continuous repetition of the lengthy first section of each da capo aria made the work dramatically static on stage, and the recitatives did not always give enough time to carry out the stage action suggested by the drama. For this reason, most of the da capo sections were abridged and new characters created (e.g., birds, the genius of the mountains, cupids, muses) to prevent static stage situations. These characters were based on the libretto. Each character was identified by the costume and played by singers and dancers – e.g., at the end of Act I, there were four pairs of Acis and Galatea on stage.
At that time, and unbeknown to me, I was much influenced by my childhood memories of Cantonese opera despite my Western Classical music training. Therefore this was probably the very first performance in the world of Handel’s Acis & Galatea staged as a dance opera in the style of Cantonese opera with a Cantonese-speaking cast. This became obvious to me when I looked at the production photos many years later (see below). You can see the full story in my PhD thesis (free download), search for Acis & Galatea in the PDF file.
The following are performance photos, together with some of my drawings/designs for this production.
More to come.
Stage design – I arranged the performing space to be like a reversed opera theatre: the auditorium became the main performing stage; the upper stalls became a smaller upper tier stage mounted with a projection screen and the design of clouds; on the sides where the boxes should be were the orchestra in stereo effect – though in the Cantonese opera that I remember instrumentalists were on stage near one side rather than both sides of the wings.
舞台設計: 由於不能在歌劇院演出，我把表演空間設計成顛倒歌劇院：觀眾座位的空間變成演出的空間，大堂座位的地方成為表演的主要舞台;上層攤位成為較小的上層舞台，在那裡有幻燈投影屏幕和裝飾以雲層設計，兩翼廂位成為舞台兩側的立體聲樂隊位 – 雖然在我記憶中粵劇樂器演奏者坐在舞台側而不是在兩翼。
One of my many stage floor plans – The Studio Theatre could be arranged flexibly, and I arranged it to be like a semi amphitheatre so that the audience could have a good view. The floor of the main stage was painted with a pastoral design with neon lights under perspex as flowing water: a heart within heart signifies the obsessive and passionate love between Acis and Galatea transformed into a more gentle and unpossessive love when Acis is turned into water.
I was to make use of leftover black and white materials from the previous production. Here is an example of how I comply to the demand: White for Galatea’s aria AS WHEN THE DOVE.
Further use of black and white leftover materials: Hair scarfs, and dresses with ribbons for the muses; black trousers, white shirts and hair scarfs for the swains. The screen and projection expand the spatial limitations.
Colourful hair scarves – in a fashion that reminded me of Cantonese opera costume (L).
Long colourful ribbons on costumes for the nymphs and Galatea are reminiscent of a type of Cantonese opera costume (image L) that looks good with dance movements.
More use of ribbons: Birds in aria HUSH, YE PRETTY WARBLING CHOIR.
Shiny headgear – reminiscent of similar headgear in Cantonese opera, and matching the ribbon dresses used during dance numbers.
Cupids: White costumes and wigs.
Cupid was changed into three cherub-like beings when love became the motive for murder: dancers with wigs and horror film Victorian doll-like masks, used for the scene of the death of Acis.
Genius of the Mountains: Wig modified and dyed green with a half mask – to create a mixture of an elf and some supernatural creature from Cantonese film.
The Cyclops Polyphemus: My design was inspired by fairy tale; and used Cantonese opera headgear, platform shoes and walking on stilts.
L is a wuchang (Impermanence 無常) that escorts spirits to the Underworld, walking on stilts and wearing a tall hat with the words ‘Seeing this brings good fortunes’ so as not to offend superstitious audiences.
ACIS AND GALETEA as colourful ‘big drama' – this is what Cantonese Opera is literally called in Canontese.
The eye of Polyphemus appears when the chorus sing WRETCHED LOVERS.