Love, jealousy, and an unintended murder are the basic ingredients of this highly dramatic oratorio by George Frideric Handel. After Handel’s Semele, Barrie Kosky now takes on his story about the deadly power of jealousy as a parable on human weakness.
At the heart of the action is not the titular Hercules, but his wife Dejanira. Waiting for her beloved Hercules to return from his conquests has driven her nearly insane. When he finally comes home with a captive Iole, the daughter of the defeated king, Dejanira cannot believe he’s done this with no ulterior motives. Dejanira’s jealousy is baseless, but she nonetheless tries to win back her husband’s love—which she’d never actually lost—with a gift. However, the precious cloak slipped to her by a centaur is in fact poisoned, and Hercules suffers an agonizing death. In contrast, their son Hyllus finds true happiness in his love for Iole.
The premiere of Hercules in January 1745 was ill-fated. Handel had quickly whipped up several arias for a suddenly available star contralto, but then she became too ill for the premiere. After the singer who stepped in for the recitatives also turned out to be hoarse, no one could follow the tragic story anymore. The premiere was a flop. It was not until the nineteenth century that the piece’s dramatic power was rediscovered for the stage. With Hercules, director Barrie Kosky turns to another of the Handel oratorios that are seldom staged in this country. In a production that grows entirely out of the magnificent music, he makes the piece sparkle in all its grandiose and deeply human facets.
Mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy as Dejanira, whose voice melts the hearts of more than just Greek heroes!