The estimable French Baroque ensemble Les Arts Florissants–which mounted here last fall an imaginative revival of Charpentier’s musical adaptation of Moliere’s Le malade imaginaire–returns with another worthy half-forgotten work. Handel’s Acis and Galatea is a two-act masque telling a simple myth from Ovid, a tale also believed to have been elaborated on by Sicilians to explain the eruptions of Mount Etna. The giant Polyphemus covets the nymph Galatea, but he’s clumsy in his courtship and she’s in love with the shepherd Acis. As the lovers proclaim their eternal bond, the jealous giant kills Acis with a huge rock. Handel composed the music in 1718; the libretto incorporates texts from John Gay, Alexander Pope, and other prominent poets of his day. Despite subsequent operatic stagings and additions and revisions to the score, which prompted debates about the genre to which Acis and Galatea really belonged, there are good reasons to think that Handel intended it as a work for small forces, and that’s how Les Arts Florissants–with a core contingent of seven singers and 11 instrumentalists–will perform it. Though the performance will use costumes and scenery, the group will emphasize the intimacy and drama of the music over theatrics and pageantry. As often with Handel at his most vivid, masterful touches of pastoralism abound, and emotions are conveyed with direct force. Even the giant, though humorously depicted, is endowed with some dignity–a characterization overlooked in some recorded performances of the masque. These details are sure to be meticulously observed by the ensemble, whose New York-born Francophile founder, William Christie, will conduct from behind a period harpsichord. The principal vocalists are soprano Sophie Daneman (Galatea), tenor Paul Agnew (Acis), and bass-baritone Alan Ewing (Polyphemus), all seasoned pros on the European early-music scene. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): William Christi photo by Michal Szabo.