Hercules. Music by G.F. Handel. Libretto by Thomas Broughton. Canberra Choral Society. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Saturday May 30, 2015.
Canberra Choral Society's presentation of Handel's "musical drama", Hercules, was a further realisation of Tobias Cole's dream of presenting to Canberra each year a Handel oratorio chosen from works lesser known than the composer's operas such as Guilio Cesar, Rinaldo and Alcina which are staples in the repertoire of many opera companies.
In the past two years, and continuing this year, Cole has chosen to present these works in a semi-staged form with principals at the front of the stage backed by a strong chorus of CCS singers, sharing the platform with an ensemble of instrumentalists performing on period instruments. This ensemble, led by violinist Bianca Porcheddu and including magical harpsichord accompaniment by Erin Helyard was again one of the great strengths of this production. The inclusion of a bassoon lent a depth of sound and the Sinfonia in Act II was a highlight of the performance. Conductor Brett Weymark brought everything together with a masterful sweep.
Handel's genius, as well as composing the superb music of his arias and choruses, lay in his ability to characterise the roles for his singers in a way that had never before been done and Hercules contains one of the greatest of these roles, that of Dejanira, the wife of Hercules, sung in this production by mezzo soprano Christina Wilson. Dejanira teeters on the brink of madness as she moves from the joy of her husband's return from the battlefield to searing jealousy of the captive princess, Iole. Wilson captured this sense of mental torture most believably. In the intimate space of the Playhouse she was able to sing softly while still conquering the difficult Handel runs and turns with assurance. Sad, vindictive, feisty in her mockery of her husband's perceived conquer "by a captive maid", Wilson portrayed all these emotions with skill.
As Hercules, baritone Christopher Richardson was an excellent foil to Wilson. Physically imposing and possessing a strong and attractive voice he has already made his mark in a Pinchgut Opera production and will be moving on to sing with Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and later Melbourne Symphony.
Janet Todd as the Princess Iole was another excellent choice, perfectly suited to her role and singing with great sensitivity. Tenor Jacob Lawrence as Hyllus has a fine tenor voice.
Unfortunately, owing to a throat infection, Tobias Cole was unable to sing the part of the messenger, Lichas. Great praise is due to his wife, Kathie Cole, who with only a few days' notice, stepped into the role.
Rehearsal time is always an issue for any performance. Generally the majority of the chorus sang without scores but the sudden use of them at one stage suggested that there may have been some insecurity. To hear them thunder out the Jealousy chorus at the end of Act I was, however, to hear them at their best and to have no doubts that this is a choir with great operatic finesse.