LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
ALBUM TITLE: Handel – Hercules
PERFORMER: William Shimell, Joyce DiDonato, Toby Spence, Ingela Bohlin, Malena Ernman, Simon Kirkbride; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie; dir. Luc Bondy (Paris, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 013
Hercules presents the tragic fate of the Greek hero at the hands of his jealous wife Dejanira, who gives him as a mark of reconciliation a poisoned cloak that kills him.
His death scene and her subsequent mad scene are two high points that show Handel at the peak of his powers, revelling in the complex psychology of his central characters and their fates. William Shimell presents Hercules as a bluff military commander, besotted with the young princess Iole, whose native city he has destroyed. Iole is engagingly sung by the Swedish soprano Ingela Bohlin, whose only fault is an occasional departure from pitch.
Her admirer and Hercules’s son Hyllus is winningly articulated by Toby Spence, and Malena Ernman makes a striking figure out of the court herald Lichas. But it’s the grand portrait of Dejanira that holds the attention in a marvellously evocative performance from Joyce DiDonato; her departures from Handel’s notes in the cause of dramatic effect are small blots on a magnificent landscape.
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. George Hall