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November 24, 2004

Vox Consort delights with stylish 'Galatea'

Boston Globe:

The Vox Consort, a newish early-music ensemble, offered a delightful performance of Handel's little opera ''Acis and Galatea" on Sunday afternoon. The group arrived on the scene highly recommended by its mentor, Simon Carrington, a founding member of the King's Singers and later director of choral activities at New England Conservatory (and now at Yale), and Carrington wasn't wrong. The singing, under the direction of Richard A. A. Larraga, was trim and stylish, and the semistaging by Stephen Marc Beaudoin was simple and effective.

Handel's black-comedy pastoral on a text by poet John Gay was even more popular than ''Messiah" in the composer's lifetime. The first part is a rural idyll depicting the romance of Acis and Galatea. The second part pulls the rug out from under them. The giant Polyphemus arrives on the scene, falls in love with Galatea, and, in a moment of fury, kills Acis with a boulder. Galatea's lament is so poignant that a goddess helps her turn Acis into a fountain; in this production the chorus wrapped him in watery blue silk.

The Vox Consort played the piece on a bare platform and in modern dress; the setting, the program leaflet told us, was ''a tony party for the reunion of young hipsters," although in context, the cast looked more like a well-dressed Sunday-school class. The exception was Polyphemus, dressed as a burned-out vet with a backpack full of drugs; he hurled the backpack at Acis to knock him down, finishing the job with a few brutal jabs with a box-cutter.

The cast was excellent. Soprano Brenna J. Wells (Galatea) looks and sounds so much like Emma Kirkby in her youth that it was interesting to read that she has in fact been studying with the beloved British early-music diva. Wells sang neatly and affectingly, but needs to beware of blasting her top tones into shrillness. Tenor Jason McStoots sang sweetly and insinuatingly as the confidant shepherd Damon, dressed as a flower child. The direction increased his role in the plot: Damon was pining in vain for Acis himself, and he turned him over to Polyphemus when it became clear that there was no place for him in the happy picture. Baritone Brian Church does not boast the ripely rolling tones traditionally associated with Polyphemus's hit song, ''O ruddier than the cherry," but he invests himself in his singing and acting. Best of all was Lawrence Jones, a new tenor from California now enrolled at Boston University, who sang as Acis. The direction presented him as a kind of nervous Nellie, unable to decide which shirt to wear to impress Galatea (Damon had to help), but his singing had all the elegance and ardor you could want.

The chorus of nine offered disciplined ensemble work, excellent intonation, and attractive tone under the alert, responsive, and lively direction of Larraga. The group's performances of Bach's ''St. John" Passion March 18 and 20 with McStoots as the Evangelist and choreography by Lorraine Chapman promise much.

Posted by acapnews at November 24, 2004 12:16 AM