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Handel - Hercules, Musical Drama in Three Acts (HWV 60) Box set

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Box set, April 2, 2002
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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Full of powerful drama and splendid music, this oratorio (an opera in all but name) has been neglected for reasons that remain a mystery. Marc Minkowski and his crack early-music band set things right, however, with a sparkling performance Handelians will greet with joy. The story revolves around Dejanira's jealousy of hubby Hercules and her attempt to win the hero back, which ends in his death, her remorse, and the union of the young lovers, Hyllus, her son, and Iole, the foreign princess she mistakenly believes her rival. The singing is on a high level throughout, though the intense Dejanira ideally wants a bigger voice than von Otter's lighter, lyric instrument. Gidon Saks's big, resonant bass-baritone is superb, and Lynne Dawson's gorgeous soprano fits Iole perfectly. Richard Croft's firm tenor and imaginative singing make something special of Hyllus's every appearance. Only David Daniels's veiled singing disappoints in the important role of the Herald. At the 1744 premiere, Handel assigned the part to a contralto, so there's no historical justification for a countertenor here. A live 1958 La Scala performance (on Melodram), sung in Italian, is the only viable rival on disc; its deficiencies are compensated for by the presence of great voices including Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Franco Corelli. But this excellent Archiv production now rules the roost. --Dan Davis

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Overtura
  2. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Menuetto
  3. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo accompagnato: See, with what sad dejection in her looks
  4. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: No longer, Fate, relentless frown
  5. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo accompagnato: O Hercules! why art thou absent from me?
  6. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: The world, when day's career is run
  7. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Princess! be comforted, and hope the best...My son! dear image of thy absent sire!
  8. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: I feel, I feel the god, he swells my breast!
  9. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: He said, the sacred fury left his breast
  10. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: There in myrtle shades reclined
  11. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Despair not; but let rising hope suspend
  12. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Where congealed the northern streams
  13. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: O filial piety! O gen'rous love!
  14. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Banish your fears!
  15. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Begone, my fears, fly, hence, away!
  16. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: A train of captives, red with honest wounds
  17. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: The smiling hours, a joyful train
  18. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: Let none despair, relief may come though late
  19. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: March
  20. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Thanks to the pow'rs above, but chief to thee
  21. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: My father! Ah! methinks I see
  22. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Now farewell, arms!
  23. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: The god of battle quits the bloody field
  24. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Ah me! How soon the flatterer hope
  25. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Daughter of gods, bright liberty!
  26. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: Crown with festal pomp the day

Disc: 2

  1. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Sinfonia
  2. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Why was I born a princess
  3. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: How blest the maid, ordained to dwell
  4. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: It must be so! fame speaks aloud my wrongs
  5. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: When beauty sorrow's liv'ry wears
  6. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Whence this unjust suspicion?
  7. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Ah! think what ills the jealous prove
  8. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: It is too sure that Hercules is false/My godlike master? - Is a traitor
  9. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo (cont.): In vain you strive his falsehood to disguise!
  10. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: Jealousy! Infernal pest
  11. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: She knows my passion, and has heard me breathe
  12. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Banish love from thy breast
  13. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: From celestial seats descending
  14. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: Wanton god of amorous fires
  15. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Yes, I congratulate your titles
  16. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Alcides' name in latest story
  17. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: O glorious pattern of heroic deeds!
  18. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Resign thy club and lion's spoils
  19. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: You are deceived! Some villain has belied/Dissebling, false, perfidious Hercules!
  20. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Cease, ruler of the day, to rise
  21. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Some kinder pow'r inspire me/Lichas, thy hands shall to the temple bear
  22. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: But see, the princess Iole, Retire!/Forgive me, princess if my jealous frenzy
  23. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Duet: Joys of freedom, joys of pow'r
  24. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Father of Hercules, great Jove
  25. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: Love and Hymen, hand in hand

Disc: 3

  1. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Sinfonia
  2. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Ye sons of Trachin, mourn your valiant chief
  3. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Oh scene of unexampled woe
  4. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: Tyrants now no more shall dread
  5. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo accompagnato: O Jove! what land is this
  6. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Great Jove! relieve his pains!
  7. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: Let not fame the tidings spread
  8. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo accompagnato: Where shall I fly?
  9. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Lo! the fair, fatal cause of all this ruin!
  10. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: My breast with tender pity swells
  11. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Princess, rejoice! whose heav'n-directed hand
  12. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Aria: He, who for Atlas prop'd the sky
  13. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Words are too faint to speak the warring passions
  14. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Duet: O prince, whose virtues all admire
  15. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Recitativo: Ye sons of freedom, now, in ev'ry clime
  16. Hercules, oratorio, HWV 60: Chorus: To him your grateful notes of praise belong


Product Details

  • Performer: Anne Sofie von Otter, David Daniels, Gidon Saks, Richard Croft, Lynne Dawson, et al.
  • Orchestra: Les Musiciens du Louvre
  • Conductor: Marc Minkowski
  • Composer: George Frideric Handel
  • Audio CD (April 2, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Archiv Production
  • ASIN: B00005YVOR
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,233 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Like "Semele," "Hercules" (1744) is a secular English-language drama drawn from classical mythology, composed at a time when Handel had turned from Italian opera to English oratorio. Though presented without scenery, costumes or stage action, this "Musical Drama" to a text by the Rev. Thomas Broughton (after Ovid, Sophocles & Seneca) is a stageworthy tragedy of love & jealousy -- Handel's librettist Charles Jennens, never one to mince words, called it "an English Opera." Although the only well-known piece from "Hercules" is Dejanira's mad scene "Where shall I fly?," nearly all the music is on a very high level, and when performed with skill & conviction, it's an immensely powerful work.
This is such a performance, not only the best "Hercules" so far (in an admittedly spotty career on disc) but a fine achievement on its own merits. Conductor Marc Minkowski deserves credit first: this is gutsy, vibrant Handel conducting, & he has a fine orchestra & chorus to work with. Yes, he can take some breakneck tempi -- I wish Hyllus's 1st & 3rd airs were a shade slower, if only so that admirable tenor Richard Croft could get all the words out with full clarity -- but everything is alive & visceral. He makes Archiv's 1983 set, the stylish (though drastically cut) John Eliot Gardiner version, sound tame and genteel by comparison.
Minkowski also has the strongest quintet of soloists so far, with some of the finest Handel singers around in peak form. Mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter as the jealous Dejanira is magnificent, everything phrase burning with meaning (she can send chills up your spine with the single word "Yes...
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One of Handel's more intriguing and epic oratorios, "Hercules" examines the power of jealousy and its fatalistic ramifications using the last hours of the mythic hero's life as the central focus of the story. Wrapped in Handel's wondrous, mood-shifting music and marked by an extremely theatrical sense of character-driven drama, this three-disc set boasts a stellar cast lending their voices to some of his most breathtaking arias. Amazingly, this elaborate piece was a bomb when it first premiered in London in 1744, but fortunately it has survived and its reputation enhanced through the succeeding centuries to become one of Handel's most respected works.

The title role is played with great authority by Israeli bass-baritone Gidon Saks, who imbues the role with the requisite vocal power which is especially clean at the top. He also displays a surprising sense of vulnerability, and this combination is particularly affecting when he sings about dealing with his mentally unstable wife, Dejanira. His big air in Act II, "Alcides' name in latest story" reflects not only his character's imminent fate but also his strong heroic sense, which effectively highlights Saks' powerful chest voice. Even though Hercules is the focal role, it is Dejanira that dominates the dramatic currents in the story. Luckily, she is played by renowned mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, who is able to express jealousy and manipulation expertly with a soaring, flexible voice that is pure pleasure to hear. Her climactic scene of madness showcased in the air, "Where shall I fly?", perfectly reflects von Otter's total commitment to the role.
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Handel is a glorious composer, and Hercules is one of his gems (in part, because it features a craftsman-like libretto from Rev. Thomas Broughton, who provided a coherent drama with ample opportunity for Handel to express human emotions).

This version is a very good recording, but we shouldn't confuse Handel's genius for a product review. Assigning five stars to a recording should be a sign that this is the definitive recording or that it is without material flaws. These judgments are often a matter of personal taste, but I assign four stars because of weaknesses such as these two examples:

1) There are several numbers where the tempo seems quite rushed, to the point of sacrificing the emotional content of the aria. One reviewer cited Hyllus' "Where congeal'd the northern streams" as an example. Comparing the Richard Croft (who is a fine performer) and Minkowski version with Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Gardiner is quite telling. These are very distinct performances which express different emotional content. I prefer Gardiner here.

2) Although some might consider it a quibble, there are several numbers on the Minkowski where the orchestra does not make full use of the score. Take for example Iole's aria "My breast with tender pity swells" (an echo of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" from Handel's Messiah). Other versions emphasize the viola solo, whereas Minkowski allows the viola to be subsumed by the other strings. Again, for a comparison, listen to the Gardiner version. For such a beautiful instrument, viola solos are rare (and too rare to waste an opportunity like this). Again, I prefer Gardiner.

There are other examples, too (don't even start me on the timpani in the March!).
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Handel - Hercules, Musical Drama in Three Acts (HWV 60)
This item: Handel - Hercules, Musical Drama in Three Acts (HWV 60)
Price: $31.26
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