Monday 20 July - Hercules by Handel
Hercules – William Shimell
Dejanira – Joyce DiDonato
Hyllus – Toby Spence
Iole – Ingela Bohlin
Lichas – Malena Ernman
Priest of Jupiter – Simon Kirkbride
Conductor – William Christie
Director – Luc Bondy
Orchestra and Chorus of Les Arts Florrisants
Paris National Opera
2004 3 hrs 10’
Like Semele, Hercules was written by Handel as an oratorio, but also, like Semele, in recent times it has enjoyed life upon the operatic stage. This is not surprising because the subject is intensely operatic. The story of Hercules’s wife’s jealousy and madness presents an unforgettable picture and the characters are all tragic. The “happy ending” with Hercules placed among the stars, does nothing to help the human tragedy nor the lives of those left behind.
In this production director Luc Bondy explores the contradictions and ambiguities of the story based, loosely, on Sophocles’ Trachiniae. The Eighteenth Century found Hercules a fascinating character with many operas, cantatas and oratorios based on his adventures, more often than not exploring the dichotomy between his supposed heroic, mythic demi-god status with his humanity.
The court laments the inconsolable grief of Dejinira who is convinced that her husband, Hercules, has been killed. The oracles indicate that this is the case. Their son Hyllas refuses to give up hope and prepares to go and search for his father. Lichas arrives and announces that Hercules has returned after conquering Oechalia. Among the captives is the princess Iole. Her predicament leaves Hyllas deeply moved. Hercules assures the princess that although he ravaged her country, killed her father and now keeps her in exile she should consider herself free.
Iole expresses her desire for a simple life far from political machinations. Dejanira is jealous of the beautiful princess. She believes that Hercules has been unfaithful to her. Iole denies that any of it is true.
Hyllas declares his love for Iole which she rejects.
Hercules is summoned to celebrate the rites of his victory. Dejanira gives Lichas a garment as a gift for Hercules. The blood-soaked clock was given to her by Nessus, her first husband, as he lay dying having been defeated by Hercules. She believes it is imbued with the power to bring erring husbands back to their wives. She tells Iole that she regrets her earlier accusations.
Lichas recounts how he gave Dejanira’s gift to Hercules. The cloak was impregnated with a deadly poison. Watched by Hyllas the undefeated Hercules died cursing Dejanira’s vengeance. His last wish was that he be carried to the summit of the mountain and placed upon the funeral pyre, thus the prophecy of the first act comes to pass. Hercules has been welcomed into Olympus.
Realising that she was the cause of his death Dejanira goes mad, arousing the pity of Iole. Jove ordains the marriage of Hyllas and Iole which is greeted with joy by Hyllas and obedience by Iole.