Review: Hercules (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

  
  

Well-intentioned ‘Hercules’ can’t build momentum

  
  

Part One  HERCULES  Lyric Opera Chorus - Dan Rest

  
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
  
Hercules
  
Composed by George Frideric Handel
Directed by
Peter Sellars
Conducted by
Harry Bicket
at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive (map)
thru March 21  | 
tickets: $33-$217  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

For his oratorio Hercules, Handel decided to forego hydras, golden apples, and Augean stables. Instead, he wrote a three hour piece about the very last snippet of Hercules’ myth: the point where the victorious Hercules returns from war and is murdered by his jealous wife, Dejanira, who suspects he bedded his recent captive, Iole. It’s an intense story; the 90’s TV show and Disney movie don’t even touch this stuff. Instead of an epic, Handel crafts an immensely personal and psychologically complex narrative complete with pounding arias and swirling recitatives.

Mackarthur Johnson, Lucy Crowe in Lyric Opera's 'Hercules'. Photo credit: Dan RestThe puckish Peter Sellars, always one for concepts and re-imaginings, directed this new production of George Frideric Handel’s Hercules. Sellars zooms in on themes concerning how war affects soldiers. The production ponders that even if you can take the warrior out of the war, can you take the war out of the warrior? It is an idea that mystified Sophocles, the writer of Handel’s source material The Trachiniae, yet it’s a problem that we face now with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still blazing (and veterans living on the street).

Sellars’ Hercules is both an ancient saga and a modern conundrum. Hercules (Eric Owens) wears the camouflage and flak vest of a 21st Century combatant; the captured Iole (Lucy Crowe) dons an Abu Gharib-style orange jumpsuit and sings her first notes from under a black sack. Sellars steals the images from newsreels, slaps them on-stage, and makes them sing.

The major issue with Lyric’s fresh opera is that Handel’s storytelling fails to captivate. He originally meant the piece to be an oratorio, or a “musical drama” in his own words. Handel wrote 26 such oratorios, a genre written for concert performances and negligible interaction amongst performers (or what we in the biz call “acting”). He didn’t necessarily intend for the harpsichord-heavy work to pack opera houses. He packs his composition with de capo arias – loads of thematic repetitions with tidbits of embellishment and alteration as per the singers. The opera feels like an overly-extended Miesner exercise, with certain phrases (such as when Dejanira, overwhelmed by guilt, begs for her ghost to be whipped by scorpions) repeated over and over. It ventures into snooze-fest territory.

Several moments break the pattern and grabs hold of one’s attention. All of the choral numbers were welcome (although the choreography was often out-of-sync), especially when they muse, gossip and hiss about the nature of jealousy. Alice Coote’s Dejanira is the real driver of the story, not the titular hero. Coote’s performance manages to be pained, majestic, and honest. The English mezzo-soprano doesn’t shy away from diving to hellish emotional depths, yet she exudes grace in all she does. When Handel writes him in, Eric Owens’ growling Hercules is also terrific. Crowe’s singing is top-notch even if her characterization is too stiff. One of my personal favorites is David Daniels’ Lichas (a part originally meant for a contralto).  A gopher for Hercules and his wife, we watch as he does all he can to console and connect the couple, even though this ends in terrible failure.

     
Alice Coote, David Daniels, Eric Owens - HERCULES - Dan Rest Eric Owens, Alice Coote - HERCULES - Dan Rest
Alice Coote and David Daniels HERCULES - Photo credit Dan Rest Alice Coote, Eric Owens - HERCULES - Dan Rest Alice Coote Dejanira in HERCULES - Photo Credit Dan Rest

Sellars’ ideas are valuable and pertinent—veterans were brought in for dress rehearsals and gave the production a standing ovation. He fleshes out themes that make Handel seem powerfully contemporary. George Tsypin’s set is simple, just a few weathered columns and boulders, but it comes to life with James Ingalls’ dazzling (and occasionally terrifying) lighting.

Once you dig past Handel’s redundancy, Dejanira and Hercules seem remarkably layered. Stuck on the home front, they are dealing with a realistic quagmire, even if the circumstances (like him being a demigod and her killing him with a coat that rips out his organs) are not. Handel’s Hercules is a confounding work, but Sellars, a populist at heart, stares it down unflinchingly.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Alice Coote, Eric Owens, Lucy Crowe, Marckarthur Johnson, Richard Croft - Hercules - Dan Rest 

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Lyric Opera announces 2010-2011 season

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Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

2010/2011 Season

 

The Lyric Opera kicks off its 56th season on October 1st presenting 68 performances of 8 operas in a 24-week period. On January 26, 2010, the upcoming season schedule was announced by General Director William Mason. Joining Mr. Mason at the press conference to discuss next year’s performances were Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director and Barbara Gaines, Director for Macbeth and Artistic Director for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

by Katy Walsh 


Macbeth  October 1st through 30th 

By Giuseppe Verdi
Italian with projected English translation (libretto) 
Directed by Barbara Gaines*, Artistic Director of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
Conducted by Renato Palumbo
Principals: Thomas Hampson, Nadja Michael*, Dimitri Pittas, Stefan Kocan*, and Carter Scott
Extra Special: New production by designers James Noone (sets), Virgil C. Johnson (costumes) and Robert Wierzel (lights).

 


Carmen October 13st through 29th and March 12th through March 27th

By Georges Bizet
French with projected English translation
Directed by John Copley
Conducted by Alain Altinoglu*
Principals:

  • October: Kate Aldrich*, Yonghoon Lee*, Elaine Alvarez, and Kyle Ketelsen
  • March: Nadia Krasteva*, Brandon Jovanovich, Nicole Cabell and Kyle Ketelsen

Extra Special: Fire burning Warhorse!


A Midsummer Night’s Dream November 5th through 23rd 

By Benjamin Britten
English with projected English translation
Directed by Neil Armfield
Conducted by Rory Macdonald*
Principals: David Daniels, Anna Christy, Peter Rose, Keith Jameson, Wilbur Pauley, Kelley O’Connor*, Shawn Mathey*, Elizabeth DeShong, Lucas Meachem, and Erin Wall

Extra Special: Lyric Opera premiere – new production designed by Dale Ferguson* (sets and costumes) and Damien Cooper* (lighting).

 


A Masked Ball  November 15th through December 10th 

By Giuseppe Verdi
Italian with projected English translation
Directed by Renata Scotto
Conducted by Asher Fisch
Principals: Frank Lopardo, Sondra Radvanovsky, Mark Delavan, Stephanie Blythe*, and Kathleen Kim

Extra Special: New San Francisco production by designers Zack Brown (sets) and Christine Binder (lights).


The Mikado  December 6th through January 21st 

By William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan
English with projected English translation
Directed by Gary Griffin
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s Music Director
Principals: James Morris, Neal Davies, Stephanie Blythe, Toby Spence*, Andriana Chuchman, Andrew Shore, Phillip Kraus, and Katharine Goeldner

Extra Special: New production by designers Mark Thompson* (sets and costumes) and Christine Binder (lights).


The Girl of the Golden West  January 22nd through February 21st 

By Giacomo Puccini
Italian with projected English translation
Directed by Vincent Liotta
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s Music Director
Principals: Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Marco Vratogna*, David Cangelosi, and Daniel Sutin

Extra Special: Premiering at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910, this Puccini classic is celebrating a centennial anniversary.


Lohengrin February 11th through March 8th 

By Richard Wagner
German with projected English translation
Directed by Elijah Moshinsky
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s Music Director
Principals: Johan Botha, Emily Magee, Michaela Schuster*, Greer Grimsley, Georg Zeppenfeld*, and Lester Lynch

Extra Special: New production designed by John Napier* (sets and costumes) and Christine Binder (lights).

 


Hercules  March 4th through 21st 

By George Frederic Handel
English with projected English translation
Directed by Peter Sellars
Conducted by Henry Bickett
Principals: Eric Owens, Alice Coote, David Daniels, Lucy Crowe*, and Richard Croft

Extra Special: Lyric Opera premiere! New production designed by George Tsypin (sets), Dunya Ramicova (costumes) and James F. Ingalls (lighting).

 


fleur_de_lis * Lyric Opera Debut

Twenty-three subscription packages will be offered with a 25% down payment plan option. Individual tickets for the 2010/2011 will be made available closer to the beginning of the season. It’s never too early to make a plan to experience the majesty that is the Lyric Opera.