Nicola Antonio Porpora
OPERA SERIA IN THREE ACTS
Libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli
Nicola Porpora was not only a composer but also a singing teacher. Among those who trained at his school was the great castrato Farinelli. In his operas he consequently highlighted the virtuosity of his singers, leaving behind spectacular scores for today’s star countertenors such as Emanuel Cencic (who celebrates his 40th anniversary as a stage performer with this production) and Franco Fagioli. With Il Polifemo in 1735, Porpora threw down the gauntlet to his London rival Handel and, appropriately, the opera tells the story of a veritable clash of the titans: It centres on the battle between Odysseus and the Cyclops Polyphemus and on the latter’s tragic love of the nymph Galatea.
In Italian with German surtitles
Introduction to the work 30 minutes before the performance
Act I The
one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus, son of Neptune, god of the sea, rules over Sicily.
He lives with his flock of sheep in a cave near Mount Etna. He is passionately
in love with Galatea, a Nereid. But Galatea does not like the rough and brutish
Polyphemus and turns him politely, but firmly, away. She is in love with the
young shepherd Acis who, for his part, tenderly worships her. Odysseus and his
companions land on the beach at Sicily to take a brief rest on their way home
from the Trojan War. Although they have been warned about Polyphemus by Acis,
the sorceress Calypso, who is disguised as a fishing woman, and her companion
Nerea, the Greeks decide to stay. Calypso immediately falls in love with
Odysseus. Polyphemus discovers the new arrivals and offers them his
hospitality. In reality, he just wants to delay the pleasure of killing the
strangers a little so he can savour it all the more. Odysseus sees through the
Cyclops’s ruse but pretends to go along with it in order to devise a plan that
would render the monster harmless to the advantage of all.
Act II Polyphemus
learns that Galatea loves Acis and swears revenge. In the meantime, Calypso
meets Odysseus. His companions are now being held captive by Polyphemus in his
cave. Odysseus does not want to escape alone and abandon his companions, so he
offers Polyphemus money as a ransom. Calypso reveals her true identity as a
goddess and sorceress to Odysseus and offers him her help. In return, he should
go with her later on to her island, Ogygia. Odysseus agrees. In the meantime,
Acis and Galatea arrange to meet in a cave.
Act III Polyphemus
surprises Galatea and Acis as they lie resting in a tender embrace in front of
the cave. Gripped by a jealous rage, the Cyclops throws a rock at them. Acis
cannot move out of the way quickly enough and is crushed. Galatea finds Acis’s
dead body and wishes she was dead too. But as a goddess she is immortal.
Calypso has magically transported herself and Odysseus to his companions in
Polyphemus’s barricaded cave. When Polyphemus returns, Odysseus introduces
himself to the giant as “Nobody” and offers him wine. Polyphemus becomes
intoxicated and falls asleep. With a big burning branch, Odysseus, with the
help of his companions, burns out Polyphemus’s single eye. In his agony, the
Cyclops is initially helpless. The Greeks have the idea of letting themselves
be carried out of the cave by the sheep, clinging onto their undersides so that
Polyphemus, when he feels the sheep from above, will not touch the men and
therefore not find them. The plan succeeds. Galatea hears about the way
Polyphemus has been punished, and despite her satisfaction she still mourns the
death of Acis. She begs Zeus to give Acis back to her and to make him immortal
too. Zeus grants her wish: He brings Acis back to life and makes him god of a
spring that starts to flow from the rock that Polyphemus hurled at the two
lovers. Polyphemus, on the other hand, stumbles blindly around the island. He
learns that he was tricked by Odysseus. Acis, now transformed into a god,
curses him as a monster whose only future lies in the deepest depths of Orcus.
The Cyclops feels he has been unfairly treated and calls on his father,
Neptune, to take revenge on Odysseus on his behalf.