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Mythology and Young Talent Meet in S.F. Chamber Orchestra’s First Opera Outing

February 19, 2019

Of all the multitasking gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines of Greek mythology, Galatea — “she who is milk-white” — is right up there.

The name belonged to a sculpture by Pygmalion, brought to life by Aphrodite in answer to the sculptor’s prayers, and then there was the un-woke mother of the same name, who prayed for her daughter to be turned into a son. Thirdly, it was the name of a Nereid sea-nymph, in the story of Acis and Galatea.

When San Francisco Chamber Orchestra is making history this week by presenting the first opera in its 66-year-long history of free concerts, on stage will be the sea-nymph who saved her foolish lover by turning him into a river spirit — for explanation, head to one of SFCO’s free shows around the Bay.

The Acis and Galatea presented by SFCO has a star-studded parentage. It was Handel’s first work in English, Ovid’s tale turned into a libretto by John Gay, of The Beggar’s Opera, and the poet Alexander Pope.

The 300-year-old classic will be brought to life by young talent of great promise:

The Galatea is Natalie Image, a second-year San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow and Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finalist who previously appeared with SFCO, singing Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Villa-Lobos.

The Acis is Filipino-American tenor Kevin Gino, who like Image, is alumn of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and a student of SFCM Voice Department Chair César Ulloa (a veritable Pygmalion of scores of now-famous singers).

Canadian tenor Isaiah Bell, the Damon, has a “Handel career” going, with engagements in Messiah and the rarely performed Resurrection in the future, and Philharmonia Baroque’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day recently.

California-born bass Alex Rosen is cast as Polyphemus, the giant — and nasty — son of Poseidon, who tries to kill Acis, his encounter with Odysseus (and eating six of his sailors) still in the future. Rosen has degrees from Peabody Conservatory and Rice University; he is currently enrolled at the Juilliard School.

SFCO Music Director Benjamin Simon is excited about the production he will lead:

This program is for both opera lovers and newcomers to the genre. It will be semistaged, so a little action and a few costumes. But mostly it’s about Handel’s glorious music. He was classical music’s first “rock star,” and Acis and Galatea was his biggest hit besides Messiah.

Baroque fans owe it to themselves to come hear this production, and I welcome those not familiar with Handel or opera to come attend this engaging and dramatic opera with the SFCO and Magen Solomon’s wonderful San Francisco Choral Society.”

SFCO has performed more than a hundred free programs since 2002 when Simon became music director. His work with the orchestra has been praised in SFCV for programming variety and “SFCO’s ability to transverse three centuries of music with consistent liveliness, grace, and skill.”

The Handel project is a good bookend to the Simon/SFCO New Works Program, which commissioned and presented 23 new compositions to date along with numerous regional premieres.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].