Hercules at the Canadian Opera

Director Peter Sellars, whose Tristan und Isolde for the COC last season was a huge success, has returned to Toronto for a production of Handel’s Hercules.  The production stars Eric Owens as Hercules, Alice Coote as Dejanira (Hercules’ wife), Richard Croft as Hyllus (their son), Lucy Crowe as Iole, David Daniels as Lichas, and was conducted by Harry Bicket.

The singing in this production is simply wonderful.  Alice Coote was simply wonderful as Dejanira.  Eric Owen’s Hercules was moving (especially during Hercules’ death scene where Owens had to sing on his back) and made it obvious how few lines the character really has as I really wanted to hear more from him.

The interpretation though was confusing.  The stage had broken marble pillars, a marble bench, and a pile of rocks at the centre of the stage.  This gave the appearance of a traditional, ancient Greek setting.  However, everyone was costumed in modern gear:  civilians in casual wear, and soldiers in battle fatigues.  When Iole makes her first appearance, she is dressed in an orange jumper just like she was going to Guantánamo Bay.

The chorus performs sign language most of the time when they were singing during the production.  Personally, the rationale for this is confusing as only the chorus does this, they do not use sing language all the time, and no one else does.  During the celebration of Hercules’ return, the chorus is seen drinking out of beer cans and brings out a large barbecue.  Again, an attempt to use modern interpretation, while mixing it with the traditional set!

During the final scene, a Hercules’ coffin is brought out draped in an American flag.  If this production is supposed to be relevant to today, and this production is being presented in Canada, then why use an American flag and not the Maple Leaf?  I did hear a couple of people question this as well while we were leaving after the performance.

For most of Hercules’ death scene, lights streamed out from the back of the stage at times.  This made it difficult at times to see the stage as people had to squint thanks to the lights shining at us.  Also, Hyllus uses crutches throughout the performance.  Obviously, he was supposed to have been injured somehow, but how?  Again, this added to the confusion of this production.

If there is any reason to go to this production it is because of the singing and the orchestration.  This is the saving grace of this production.

 

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