I was challenged to explain & even to defend something I love. It was my second time seeing the Canadian Opera Company Hercules, accompanied by someone who prefers Puccini to Handel.
Why this old story in modern dress? Or rather, an old story presented in an old style –baroque opera– but with soldiers wearing modern uniforms & carrying modern arms? Clearly it worked better for me than for her.
What I tried to explain was that Sellars’ Hercules permits us the luxury of being in two historic time periods at once. We can experience the heroic times of Hercules yet watch him in modern dress. It’s a curious parallel to what we experience in so many aspects of life. While we have modern armaments, our ideas about honour and duty and compassion haven’t necessarily come very far. We may wear modern clothes but we still experience love & hatred & jealousy, still need forgiveness & compassion.
Handel’s oratorio is a wonderful template for such an investigation, allowing us to be in both times at once. The music divides the action up into discreet chunks for us, allowing us to contemplate one passion at a time, sometimes dwelling on one or two lines of text for five minutes of exquisite singing.
Sellars and his cast made a splendidly original use of the da capo convention. Such arias have an opening section, a contrasting section, then go back to the beginning, or from the head–da capo— of the page. Historically informed performance practice has been employing the idea of elaboration in the repetition of the da capo part, meaning extra coloratura, extra showing off.
Or it can be a sudden emotional shift. A man with post traumatic stress disorder can suddenly shift into a shadow of his self, behaving oddly. A woman missing her husband, feigning happiness in the opening part lets her true concerns show in the repetition. And so on, as the repetition is an opportunity for added dimensions & depths.
I was up close this time which kept my tear ducts busy. Moments that moved me the first time were doubly powerful this time around. There’s at least one for each of the principals.
One can’t let discouraging words get you down of course. To each his/her own I would usually say, but with the caveat that when two people see the same thing and one has a significant experience, I’d rather be that person than the one who is able to deconstruct the show.
I won’t be able to see it again, alas, but so far Hercules is the best thing I’ve seen at the COC in a very long time.