W. Dean and J. M. Knapp,
Handel's Operas: 1704-1726
Handel, Acis and Galatea (1718 version), English Baroque Soloists, J. E. Gardiner
Handel, Acis and Galatea (1739 version), Les Arts Florissants,
Handel's score has all the musical merit of the Italian operas that would make his name in England. Even with such a small musical ensemble -- 2 oboes (doubling on recorders and flauto piccolo), 2 violins, and basso continuo -- Handel created gorgeous music, of varied color and texture. In the opening number of the second part, Wretched lovers, a slow, arching contrapuntal theme is passed through all the vocal and instrumental parts, continuing into the fast section where it is enlivened by a more raucous counter-subject ("Behold the monster Polypheme"). The trio of Galatea, Acis, and Polyphemus is one of Handel's most pleasing ensemble pieces, and Galatea's final air, Heart, the seat of soft delight, is only one of the role's very pleasing pieces. As Acis sings his dying recitative, Handel has the harpsichord go silent, leaving just strings in pianissimo, followed by similar sections for unaccompanied voices in the choral response to Acis's death.
Scholar Dianne Dugaw, in her book "Deep play": John Gay and the invention of modernity, singles out Acis and Galatea as an example of how John Gay's literary guidance was just as important as Handel's music, particularly in her discussion of the comic nature of Polyphemus, which she sees as being primarily the idea of Gay, resisted by Handel a bit as seen in his revisions to the work in the 1730s. It is this sort of characteristic that inspired the following assessment by Dean and Knapp:
If the masques of 1715-17 achieved nothing towards supplanting Italian opera, they did have one important progeny. Handel's Acis and Galatea ... was directly modelled on them, both in text and music. Had [it] been written for the London theater rather than a nobleman's private entertainment, subsequent events might have taken a different course. (pp. 166-67)