Review "Hercules": Attacks & Holds The Audience Captive!

Lyric Opera presents
At Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive


Composed by George Frideric Handel
Libretto by Thomas Broughton
Based on two plays: Sophocle’s ‘The Women of Trachis’
and Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’
Performed in English
With projected English Titles
Conducted by Harry Bicket
Stage directed by Peter Sellars
March 16th, 19th, 21st at 7:30
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Three hours and twenty minutes includes one intermission.

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘Jealousy! Infernal pest!’ Goodbye peace, goodbye love! Being married to a demi-god has its challenges.  Lyric Opera presents HERCULES, a musical drama in three acts composed by George Frideric Handel.  Hercules returns from war. After killing a neighboring King, Hercules brings home the orphaned princess Iole.  His wife, Dejanira, is not happy about the battle souvenir.  She’s had enough of his conquering hero antics.  Meanwhile, Iole is mourning the loss of her father.  Her sweet vulnerability turns-on both Hercules and son.  Jealousy! To reclaim her godly husband’s affections, Dejanira is going to have to spill a little blood.  HERCULES attacks with powerful singing and holds the audience captive.    

Handel’s masterful orchestration showcases Thomas Broughton’s simplistic lyrics.  For any song, the short repeated verse sustains a memorable rhythm.  It’s poignant.  I often leave the Lyric humming tunes but this time I’m actually singing phrases:  ‘Adieu to peace. Adieu to love.‘  Under the stage direction of Peter Sellars, sung phrases are matched with physical gestures.  It’s an intriguing combination of sign language and mime.  The extra layer adds dimensionality to the songs.  The hands-on visual is most apparent in the chorus.  They seem to do an operatic version of the “Macarena” in rounds. The synchronization is transfixing.  This chorus is an energetic force.  They come out of the background. In a party scene, they are happily swilling beer bottles.  Throughout this production, they are having a good time enjoying the festivities. Their stage presence is a pure delightful anticipation.   

03. Part One - HERCULES - Lyric Opera Chorus DAN_6083 c. Dan Rest.jpg

Not to be secondary to the chorus, the principals each have a formidable, heart-rending aria(s).  Under the dramatic powerhouse of Director Sellars and Conductor Harry Bicket, the drama is heightened in action and song.  Lucy Crowe (Iole) sings with perfect diction (and with a cold as pre-announced) through a bag over her head.  She is phenomenal!  Her lyrical stylings enchant whether she is grieving for her dad, pledging her love to Hyllus or comforting Dejanira. She is simply magical!  As the pill-popping, jealous wife, Alice Coote (Dejanira) is a whirlwind of raw emotion sung in beautiful misery.  Coote gives the performance her all and looks expectedly exhausted at curtail call.  Wow!  David Daniels (Lichas) engages as the countertenor.  As he sings of the fate of his master, Daniels connects with a personal intimacy to the audience. The intensity is riveting.  Richard Croft (Hyllus) sings forcefully about conspiracy theories and then tentatively of his future obligations.  For the strongest man in the world, Eric Owens (Hercules) isn’t the happy hero to be home or on stage.  Owens plays it dark and unaffected by the drama or the audience.  Except for a raging death aria, Owens seems disconnected to the story…almost bored.

04. Alice Coote, Eric Owens, Lucy Crowe, Marckarthur Johnson, Richard Croft, HERCULES DAN_6233 c. Dan Rest.jpg

In his defense, Owens looks uncomfortable in his fatigues.  Costume Designer Dunya Ramicova dresses the cast in contemporary clothing.  The military is wearing Desert Storm attire.  The non-military are wearing street clothing with the ladies in traditional garb for Libyan women.  Along with a backdrop that changes from starry night to fiery hell to squiggly chaos, the colors and textures make a vibrant visual spectacle.  HERCULES is unexpectedly less about the demi-god and more about humanity.  It’s strength is weaving greek mythology into a present day story of the causalities of war.  This HERCULES is a magnificent crusade to silence the external and internal conflict.                

A Peter Sellars’ fan, James describes the show with ‘classic, modern classic.’

Leave a comment