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The Power of Music
Acis and Galatea is a story that’s been around for centuries. Handel‘s version of the story goes back to the first c. Roman poet Ovid, whose epic poem Metamorphoses is all about stories of transformation where humans end up becoming mythological creatures, or half divine, or plant, animal or mineral beings of the natural world. In this ancient world, all is real, alive and expressive. Acis a mortal man and Galatea a sea nymph are in love. Polyphemus, a jealous, one-eyed monster, wants Galatea too. He crushes Acis with a stone, and Galatea is left to mourn. Heartbroken, she uses her divine powers to transform her love into an immortal god of water.
Like all great stories, it’s about love and death and how we deal with life and loss. Handel’s music makes it great, a gift to singers and audiences alike.
It is true that immersing myself in one particular piece of music changed my mind, my heart and eventually, the course of my life.
This trailer clip is taken from my favourite opera of all time: Handel’s Acis and Galatea, from 1718. The melodic lines are so very beautiful and the emotional characterizations in the music so compellingly human, so well defined...
And the almost androgyny of the early 18th century hair, makeup and dress is wonderful to look at too!
Oh, didst thou know the pains of absent love, / Acis would ne'er from Galatea rove. / As when the dove / Laments her love, / All on the naked spray; / When he returns, / No more she mourns, / But loves the live-long day. / Billing, cooing, / Panting, wooing, / Melting murmurs fill the grove, / Melting murmurs, lasting love.
The Aria that first drew me in was all about love and longing. When I first encountered this music, I was extremely lonely, despairing and close to extinction, for I believed I would never find love in this life. Every day, countless times, I listened to Galatea’s song because it was the only thing that gave me respite from the darkness of my own thoughts. Somehow at last, the music and lyrics embedded into my being. It hit me that perhaps the absence of love I felt so keenly was not meant to be permanent, and that my heart’s longing was meant to be answered, just as the song said: “When he returns, no more she mourns, but loves the live long day.”
Music opened me once more to hope and to receive, and set my world in motion. It always does. It’s the magic gift behind my art, my life and my true story of the Beloved Equation. And it’s there for you too, whenever you are ready.
Perhaps the other aria dearest to me in Handel’s rendering of the ultimate fate of the love between Acis and Galatea is “Heart, the seat of soft delight...”
Listen to the music and you can hear the sound of the water flowing, singing softly to infinity. Hear the words closely and you can see this is all about transforming and transcending grief and unbearable loss by letting go. Allowing the emergence of a new relationship even in the absence of a loved one. The disappearance of someone we love is painful, but the loved once held can never be lost. In each of us, we hold this divine possibility of making meaning and moving beyond life as we once knew it, into a different reality and a new way of being in a relationship.
Handel’s music still sings and this song too has saved me many times!
'Tis done! Thus I exert my pow'r divine; / Be thou immortal, though thou art not mine! / Heart, the seat of soft delight, / Be thou now a fountain bright! / Purple be no more thy blood, / Glide thou like a crystal flood. / Rock, thy hollow womb disclose! / The bubbling fountain, lo! it flows; / Through the plains he joys to rove, / Murm'ring still his gentle love.
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