Handel’s Hercules, acclaimed as one of the masterpieces of its age, comes to Oxford later this month. The faintly absurd plot is put in modern dress, with vocals provided by a talented young cast of some of Oxford’s finest.
David le Provost excels in the title role, bringing dramatic immediacy supported by a fine voice to the tragic hero, with a firm command of both the stage and Handel’s fiendish score. Likewise Johanna Harrison as Dejanira, Hercules’ accidentally-murderous wife, owns the compulsory mad scene, alternately seeing Furies and despairing all over the floor. Edward Edgcumbe’s Lichas does remarkably well to maintain dramatic interest with sparse staging and lengthy arias to contend with.
Warming into her musical role throughout the preview was Tara Mansfield’s Iole, culminating in one of Handel’s exquisitely gentle show-stoppers as the captured princess comforts the weeping Dejanira. Singing quite high and very loud is Andrew Hayman as Hyllus, Hercules’ tenor son; a difficult role to make something of, being awkwardly balanced between the tenor-love-interest-type and the Baroque-bit-part-type.
Here is a cast that will undoubtedly give very fine performances, provided they can escape the slight sense that arms are a relic from Handel’s time which nobody’s quite sure what to do with. James Potter conducts, and demonstrates strong musical conviction for what Handel’s score is capable of; letting the drama through but never losing sight of beauty.
The confused identity of Handel’s opera/oratorio/thing presents a challenge for any director, one which Isaac Louth has surmounted, allowing the drama and Handel’s glorious music precedence at all times – if you’d like another side of Hercules to the Disney hero with floppy locks, you could do worse than this.
Oxford Opera’s Handel will play from 21st to 23rd November at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, OX4 1EH Oxford.