Ilford Manor, Wiltshire

Classical review: Acis and Galatea - Handel among the hollyhocks – one of the pleasures of reaching a certain age

4.00

 

There comes a time in one's life when instead of switching channels when Gardeners' Question Time starts on BBC Radio 4, you find yourself soothed by discussions of wintersweet, sawfly and lousewort. Devotees of the programme will know of Iford Manor because of its garden, designed by Harold Peto to the Italian model, its terraces heavy with wisteria, its cloisters peppered with statuary from long abandoned churches. For those of us who can kill a pot of basil with a single glance, it hosts the most enchanting of the summer festivals, Iford Arts.

Handel's 1718 serenata Acis and Galatea was written for performance in a garden, on the terrace overlooking the fountains designed by the Huguenot philosopher, priest and hydraulic engineer John Theophilus Desaguliers for Cannons, the Stanmore estate of James Brydges, Duke of Chandos.

In Pia Furtado's Iford Manor production with Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company, we move to the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall (designs by Georgia Lowe). Ovid's arcadia has become a bosky brothel, with the water-nymph Galatea (Mary Bevan) an erotic dancer in a gilded cage, owned by Polyphemus (Lukas Jacobski) and mad with love for the shepherd Acis (Benjamin Hulett).

Furtado's concept imposes an ironic, bitter cast on John Gay's lyrics and the artless beauty of Handel's pastoral. But from the powdered jades, mollies and fops who flutter around the brothel, to the moral vacillations of Polyphemus's glitter-masked henchman, Damon (Christopher Turner), the characterisation is clear and thorough. As ever in Curnyn's work, there's a strong heartbeat underpinning Handel's quicksilver instrumentation, the pithy sopranino recorders and their tender treble alter-egos, the musky violin and sweet oboe.

Jacobski's biting bass, Bevan's dark, supple soprano and Hulett's clean, lyrical tenor are brilliantly contrasted in the Italianate trio "The flocks shall leave the mountains", Turner's elegance underlined in "Would you gain the tender creature", the consort uninhibited and expressive in "Wretched lovers!".

As with her Iford production of Handel's Susanna, Furtado has created a sort of ballet from sexual bliss and sexual assault, bodies held taut in beguilement and repulsion, the stillness dynamic. It is arresting to hear such delicate music against such muscular imagery, and disturbing to see a bereft Galatea dressed again at the close in the pearl-trimmed corset and glitter-dusted gloves of a dancer, having metamorphosed her murdered Acis into a brook with "Heart, thou seat of soft delight".

Artistic Director Tom Morris warned us that things might go wrong on the first night of the Bristol Proms. These were baby steps for the Bristol Old Vic's revival of a once-thriving 18th-century concert series, overseen by two formidable nannies, Universal and Classic fm. The bottom line was "informality", for which read, "take your drinks in, clap when you like".

I didn't feel much like clapping during the Fitzhardinge Consort's Singing in the Dark, a recital of choral favourites from Tallis to Whitacre, mostly sung in the light. The main event was, in any case, the pianist Jan Lisiecki (Old Vic, Bristol ****), pristine in his pedal-work, unflappable in the frenzied bravura of Chopin's Opus 10 and 25 Etudes, and apparently tickled pink by the applause. Multiple camera shots of his hands, face, and the hammers of a tired and emotional seen-it-all Steinway were mixed, live, on video, sometimes accompanied by lasers, sometimes by digital flora.

Young pianists have to do demanding repertoire to get noticed but Lisiecki's musical personality was most alluring in the long, poised melody of the Sarabande from Bach's Partita in B flat and especially in the shimmering deflections of Messaien's early prelude La colombe. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the whoops and cheers were for his playing, not the lasers.

Critic's Choice

Christianne Stotijn and Imogen Cooper perform songs by Schubert, Britten and Mussorgsky at The Maltings, Snape, (Weds). At the Proms, Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 4 with Mitusko Uchida and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique (Royal Albert Hall, Thurs).

 

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'