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Hercules [Box set, Complete]

George Frideric Handel Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 44.45 & FREE Shipping. Details
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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' 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, 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

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A giddy response May 10 2002
Format:Audio CD
This is dangerously beautiful music performed to perfection. Anne Sofie von Otter has never sounded better, in my opinion, nor has she ever sung music more suited to her. The rest of the cast keeps up with her which says a lot I think for them and for Minkowski.
Is Handel opera finally beginning to receive its due? I certainly hope so. It is every bit as celestial as his "greatest hits," or more so. I thank Handel, God and the producer of this recording - but Handel first.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, Riveting Version of a Handel Masterpiece April 12 2002
By Nicholas A. Deutsch - Published on Amazon.com
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..."); unlike Dan Davis, I don't miss a "bigger voice" (by which I think he means weightier or darker): it's refreshing to hear a young-sounding Dejanira who isn't in the least matronly (like Sarah Walker for Gardiner, or the fearsome Fedora Barbieri in the impossible La Scala performance). As Iole, whom Dejanira believes erroneously to be her rival for Hercules' love, soprano Lynne Dawson presents a more mature & strong-willed character than usual. Richard Croft captures beautifully both the extrovert virility & the romantic, erotic yearning of Hyllus (Hercules' son & Iole's suitor), and bass-baritone Gidon Saks is a powerful Hercules, moving in his death agony. Countertenor David Daniels is starry casting as the herald Lichas (composed for a star contralto, Susannah Cibber); he makes the most of a dramatically passive role.
My only reservations concern cuts & textual changes. Though this is the fullest version of "Hercules" yet - it runs 23 minutes longer than Gardiner's - it isn't complete. Of his six airs, Lichas loses a fair chunk of one ("The smiling hours," including the postlude, so Minkowski can link it directly to the next chorus) & all of another ("Constant lovers"); Iole gets to sing only the "A" section of her da capo aria "Banish love from thy breast." More troubling are two shifts of material, neither of which Handel ever made (and he made some eyebrow-raising changes in revivals of "Hercules"). Minkowski replaces "Constant lovers" with Lichas's earlier Act II air "As stars that rise": the words & the assertive music make great sense in the original location, where Lichas is defending Hercules against Dejanira's accusation of infidelity, but in the new one lose most of their relevance & dramatic point. Most puzzling of all is the treatment of Iole's entrance scene in Act I: her colloquy with her faithful maidservants is gone, save for the last few lines, which, with the ensuing air "Daughter of Gods, bright Liberty" are inserted later, between Hercules' air "The God of Battle" & the final chorus of Act I, "Crown with festal pomp." Theatrically, thematically, dramatically, psychologically, musically - in every way this strikes me as inferior to what Handel & Broughton wrote. Irritating if minor flaws on a great recording.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic Drama and Heavenly Handel Mark Hercules' Last Days Nov. 15 2004
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
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. As their son Hyllus, tenor Richard Croft has an impressively agile voice, and amid his character's callow feelings toward his father's young captive, Iole, he easily handles all of the virtuoso runs in his many arias with great dexterity. Soprano Lynne Dawson plays Iole in alternate strokes of fire and purity, as she embodies the object of Dejanira's jealousy. Her high point has to be in Act II with her air, "Resign thy club and lion's spoils". And last but certainly not least, in the supporting role of Lichas the Herald, countertenor David Daniels is in his usual magnificent vocal form. Even though his role is the least dramatic, his charisma and vocal dexterity are on full display whenever he appears. His opening air, "No longer, Fate, relentless frown", truly sets the platinum standard at which the other singers perform.

Recorded live in the Theatre de Poissy, music director Marc Minkowski leads the orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre, with the appropriate levels of drama and subtlety, accurately capturing the individual tempo of each scene. Compared to other oratorios by Handel, this is a relatively mellow piece in spite of its mythic nature. Even though it doesn't have the depth of passion and consequence of "Theodora", it is still very much a masterful work of singular beauty, stunningly performed. An impeccably recorded must-have for any Baroque music aficionado.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Hercules himself - Strong, but with flaws Sept. 28 2010
By GDP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
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!). None of these flaws seriously impair the recording (nor should they prevent anyone from purchasing and enjoying it), but they are significant enough to prevent a five star rating (which should imply near-perfection).

The Gardiner Handel: Hercules/Tomlinson, Rolfe Johnson, S. Walker, Smith, Denley, Gardiner recording is a very strong alternative. The vocal talent in each is comparable and a "pick-em" based upon personal preference (Minkowski has the benefit of featuring David Daniels and Richard Croft, both of whom appeared in Hercules at Chicago's Lyric Opera in 2011 --- and are scheduled in Toronto in 2014), but the orchestral forces are used quite differently.

Both Minkowski and Gardiner are cut (Gardiner slightly more so), as are almost all live performances. If you want to hear as near a complete score as possible however, try Martini Handel: Hercules. It features all of the music and text in the 1859 Breitkopf & Härtel score (plus a little more). It, too, has some weaknesses (accented pronunciation by several performers, for instance), but some real strengths (its' "My breast swells with tender pity" is outstanding, featuring both the viola solo and an organ accompaniment). It's available at budget pricing, so whatever decision you reach as to Minkowski v. Gardiner, the Martini is a very good #2 recording.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly dramatic Feb. 4 2005
By S Duncan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is a truly different and exciting take on Handel, if I may make so bold a statement. The singing has a somewhat modern flavour, being more convincing and less 'periodic'. I mean, when Anne Sofie von Otter almost sighs "Oh Hercules!" as her opening line, there's no mistaking HOW much Dejanira longs for him! We begin to understand, from her characterisation, how Dejanira could have ended up making the fatal blunder. With hindsight, this deserved less that 5 stars- at times von Otter sounds a little winded and perhaps a little too harsh (particularly in her ravings at the end when Dejanira discovers what she's done). There is less of the elegant phrasing and more hyterics and unsteadiness. Still, a dramatic account.

David Daniels does indeed sing in a "veiled" manner. His rich and opulent countertenor is one of this set's finer attributes at times but this is less secure purchase than I've heard elsewhere from him. His recount of Hercules' death is nonethelss stunning in its anguish.

Lynne Dawson is, as usual, excellent: touching but with that sense of immediacy and realism that communicates so well with the listener. Like her Dido, this is a quietly commanding performance.

Gidon Saks' voice has depth and sonority. Had it been a less dramatic reading on his part his voice would have been mirky but here he comes across with great authority and his suffering in the end is palpable. My main reservation is his speech rather than his voice. He sounds as if he had a blocked nose in the way he pronounced his 'n's and 'd's.

"Where has Richard Croft been all this time?" I ask myself!!! This tenor is AMAZINGLY agile, dramatic and talk about a STUNNING voice!! I put him forward as easily the FINEST performer on the entire set. "Let not fame the tidings spread" is done with the sort of security and flair (not to mention enviable beauty) that makes you completely forget about how repetitive the aria is. Great stuff.

Minkowski's conducting is very sensitive and his speeds moderate. The period intruments don't sound 'thin' but just add the right amount of surrealism. The orchestra sounds fabulous and they are very accurate. Likewise, the chorus is very elegant. A modern and well-produced recording that is overall very satisfying.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Handel - Hercules, Musical Drama in Three Acts (HWV 60) March 16 2011
By Bjorn Viberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Handel - Hercules, Musical Drama in Three Acts (HWV 60) is a recording under the direction of Marc Minkowski who leads the Les Musixiwna Du Louvre on this Archiv Produktion and was recorded in 2002. The booklet is a quite a work of art with many fine drawings from the time of Handel along several fine photographs of the performers from the time of the recording. The liner-notes have been written Donald Burrows and are very well-written and informative. The lyrics are available in German, English and French. Highly recommended. 5/5.
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