MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • UK Editors  - Roger Jones and John Quinn

    Editors for The Americas  - Bruce Hodges and Jonathan Spencer Jones

    European Editors - Bettina Mara and Jens F Laurson

    Consulting Editor - Bill Kenny

    Assistant Webmaster -Stan Metzger

    Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search

Internet MusicWeb



Handel, Hercules:
Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Harry Bicket, (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago, 4.3.2011 (JLZ).

Set Designer: George Tsypin

Costume Designer: Dunya Ramicova

Lighting Designer: James F. Ingalls

Stage Director: Peter Sellars

Chorus Master: Donald Nally

Conductor: Harry Bicket


Lichas: David Daniels

Dejanira: Alice Coote

Hyllus: Richard Croft

Iole: Luce Crowe

Hercules: Eric Owens

Marckarthur Johnson and Lucy Crow
Picture © Dan Rest

Handel's Hercules received an exciting new staging at Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks to an exemplary new production by Peter Sellars. Cast as a drama about a legendary hero in the twilight of his career, the play of emotions moves from the longing for the hero's return by his wife Dejanira and son Hyllus, to Hercules' triumphant return with the captive Iole (whose persona and legacy raise questions about Hercules' interest in her). In two parts, the opera reaches a climax at the chorus "Jealousy," and from that point forward, the second part moves quickly, culminating in Hercules' tragic death. This is counterbalanced by Iole's role as Hyllus's spouse and Dejanira's acceptance of the former captive, thus resolving the jealous anger behind the tragedy.

The production itself is stark, with broken pillars framing the otherwise open stage. Slabs of marble serve as benches or suggest altars, as the drama moves from domestic situations to more public ones. Within this suggestion of antiquity, the costumes are modern-with Hercules dressed as a current soldier from the Mideast. This dual vision makes this venerable work still relevant, which might be lost in more traditional "sand-and-sandals historicism" with escapist overtones. If the references to current affairs are somewhat overt, they carry a sense of timeliness that the libretto already contains. Not many productions do so well, accentuating Handel's content.

Along with Sellars's production, Harry Bicket's musical leadership helped create the vivid interpretation. In restructuring the three-act oratorio into a two-part opera, some cuts were made, mostly reducing the role of Lichas, but also ultimately helping to shape the drama more effectively. Some of the orchestral passages were also cut. And despite the relatively large hall of the Civic Opera House, Bicket's interpretation remained stylistically authentic. His tempos were effective, except for some places in which pauses punctuated recitatives and arias. Those pauses were useful in allowing the audience a moment to reflect on the text and broke up the sometimes commonplace flow from recitative to aria, which can blur the thoughts expressed in the libretto. Only in a few places did these pauses backfire, as in some of the da capo arias, when a few audience members applauded prematurely.

In the title role of Hercules, Eric Owens was convincing and his clear bass-baritone helped create a visual image of the hero-particularly in "The god of battle quits the bloody field," in which conflicting emotions are evident. As Hercules' son, Hyllus, tenor Richard Croft gave a nuanced reading. "I feel, I feel the god" gave a sense of divine possession while retaining Hyllus's unfulfilled quest for his absent father. Likewise, the aria "Let not fame the tidings spread" was impressive, as was the duet with Iole, "O prince whose virtues all admire," in which Hyllus and Iole celebrate their union and resolve tensions that fomented the hero's tragic death.

As Dejanira, Alice Coote brought an expert musical sense, giving each aria the shape and definition it required, with polish and a sense of spontaneity. Coote gave an outstanding reading of "When beauty sorrow's livery wears," in which Dejanira realizes the distance that exists between her and Hercules, even though they are finally reunited. Musically, that aria came off with note-perfect style and exceptional phrasing. Yet a short time later, the more extroverted hectoring was convincing as Dejanira berated Hercules in "Resign thy club and lion's spoils." Late in the work, when Handel gives Dejanira arioso-like passages and a recitative, Coote brought appropriate stylish dignity.

Lucy Crowe was wonderful as the captive Iole, attracting not only the attention of Hercules, but also his son. Crowe's stylish approach rendered the florid passages with finesse and aplomb, and her opening aria, "Daughter of gods," gave a fine sense of her stylistic command. Crowe brought out her character's awareness of the complex domestic situation in "Ah, think what ills the jealous prove," and her clear, fluid voice was fresh and compelling in the final duo with Hyllus, "O prince, whose virtues all admire."

Seasoned Handelian David Daniels gave fine shape to the character of Lichas, who moved easily between the other principals, especially Dejanira. As the voice which opens the work, Daniels set the tone with "No longer, fate, relentless frown," that showed his fine abilities. Yet his sustained delivery of the material at the traditional opening of the third act, "Oh, scene of unexampl'd woe" was poignant in depicting Hercules' agony. Here the tone, phrasing, and use of subtle dynamics made the scene three-dimensional.

The chorus played an important role, using gestures to underscore the text, such as in the famous "Filial piety" chorus, which integrated their sentiments with Hyllus' character. And as much as they brought a lively sense to "Crown with festal pomp the day," the singers were outstanding in the powerful performance of "Jealousy," that occurs at first part's end. As fine as the conclusion may be, here it was the animated presentation of "Jealousy" that set the tone for the tragedy's core.

A late work, Hercules has much to offer, especially in this effective conceptualization. Congratulations to Lyric for their efforts in re-envisioning the work in this uniformly fine production.


James L. Zychowicz

Back to Top                                                   Cumulative Index Page