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Director: Luc Bondy,
Designer: Richard Peduzzi,
Costumes: Rudy Sabounghi &
Lighting: Dominique Bruguière
“Among the best DVDs ever made of a Handelian production.” Opera News
“…it's the grand portrait of Dejanira that holds the attention in a marvellously evocative performance from Joyce DiDonato… Les Arts Florissants responds to William Christie's firm yet subtle conducting with immaculate playing, while Luc Bondy's modern-dress production searches out the work's truth in a considered, finely-honed dramatic realisation.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2006 ****
“Luc Bondy's Aix-en-Provence production, here captured at a later Paris performance, confirms that Hercules is superb theatre. Many of Bondy's ideas about detail and stagecraft are impressive and convincing. In Sophocles, Hercules is a serial adulterer; but in Handel's drama it is transparent that he and lole are innocent. Instead, Bondy portrays Dejanira as an innocent victim, lole as a scheming greedy hypocrite, and Hercules as a thoroughly unpleasant cad. All three characterisations grind against Handel's music. But if you accept that this is a distorted invention based on Handel's drama, it becomes an accomplished and powerful experience. Joyce DiDonato's finest moment as the nervously twitching Dejanira is a penetrating, tearful performance of 'Cease, ruler of the day to rise'... Swedish soprano Ingela Bohlin has striking looks and a lovely clear voice: Iole's 'My father!' and 'My breast with tender pity swells' are highlights. Toby Spence's articulate singing makes him a potent Hyllus... The chorus of Les Arts Florissants sings with clarity, precision and a good sense of the libretto's meaning...” Gramophone Magazine, April 2006
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Full-tracklists and synopses in English, German and French
“By any standards the performances are highly professional and immensely skilful, directed with great spirit, played with excellent discipline on period instruments, sung with vigour and feeling by chorus and soloists alike...Sarah Walker's noble interpretation of Dejanira dominates the set, sung with power, intense but unexaggerated feeling, sure technique, high intelligence.” Gramophone Magazine, June 1983
“Gardiner's vital performance of Hercules, using authentic forces, conveys superbly the vigour of the writing, its natural drama; and the fire of this performance is typified by the outstanding singing of Sarah Walker as Dejanira...Refined playing and outstanding recording quality make this extremely welcome at mid-price.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition
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Jerome Hines, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Franco Corelli star in this recording from La Scala of Handel’s “Eracle” (Hercules) recorded live on the 29th December 1958.
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Nicola Wemyss (Dejanira), Gerlinde Sämann (Iole), Franz Vitzthum (Lichas), Knut Schoch (Hyllus), Peter Kooij (Hercules)
Junge Kantorei & Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra, Joachim Carlos Martini
Handel composed Hercules for his 1744-45 oratorio season as the secular foil to one of his most ambitious sacred dramas, Belshazzar, hoping to repeat the success of the previous season’s Samson/Semele pairing. Like Semele, Hercules, which Handel called ‘A Musical Drama’, is an English opera in all but name and shares its theme of the destructive power of sexual jealousy. Handel’s music is of outstanding quality and the commanding figure of Dejanira – rapturous in her love for her returning hero, distraught at his imagined dalliance with Iöle, eventually mad with despair at the enormity of her misguided actions – is one of his most powerfully drawn female rôles.
“The orchestra… play with precision, vigour and awareness. Peter Kooij… sings with intelligence and warmth. Gerlinde Sämann sings Iole's difficult arias with assurance… and the astonishing aria "My father! Methinks I see" is excellently done.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2008
“Singing, playing and theatrical and musical direction… are very good indeed and full of life and integrity. There really is much to enjoy here.” MusicWeb International
(also available to download from $12.50)
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“Hercules has never quite occupied the place it merits in the Handel canon, even though it includes some of his most powerfully dramatic music. This is understood by Marc Minkowski, whose intentions towards the work are made clear frm the start of the Overture. But he's also intent on maintaining its dramatic pace and emphasising its range of feeling. His cast is well able to share his dramatic vision. Von Otter excels as Dejanira. This, rather than Hercules himself, is the central role, carrying the work's chief expressive weight. There's some beautifully shaped singing as in her opening air she mourns Hercules' absence, and she copes well with Minkowski's demanding tempo in 'Begone, my fears'. Lynne Dawson makes a delightful Iole, crystalline, airy, rhythmic, but able to call on more intensity where needed. 'My breast with tender pity swells' is truly lovely. Lichas' music is done with refinement but also vigour by David Daniels. Richard Croft, though often hurried by Minkowski, sings much of Hyllus' music with elegance, and his delicate sustained pianissimo in the da capo of 'From celestial seats descending', one of the most inspired pieces in the score, is remarkable. The choral singing is strong, secure, responsive, though the French choir is rather less euphonious than the best English ones. The orchestral playing is duly alert. This account benefits from fewer cuts than his rival Gardiner and superior solo singing.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Marc Minkowski conducts an urgently dramatic account of Handel's music-drama...von Otter gives a vividly characterful performance which, with fine gradation of tone and expression, brings out the full range of emotion inplied...Gidon Saks sings with fine, clear focus, not as weighty as many a traditional Handelian bass, but firm and dark.” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***
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