PERFORMER: John Tomlinson, Sarah Walker, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Jennifer Smith, Catherine DenleyMonteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 447 689-2 DDD Reissue
Hercules was first performed in 1745 ‘in the manner of an oratorio’, but its inherently theatrical nature is revealed in Handel’s description of it as ‘a musical drama’. Thomas Broughton’s libretto, based on Sophocles and Ovid, is a powerful study of jealousy which drew from Handel some of his finest music.
This performance was recorded in 1983, and it may be that Gardiner would choose rather different-sounding soloists today: at any rate, the rich and steely voices of Sarah Walker and John Tomlinson sound somewhat at odds with the lighter, transparent orchestral and choral textures. That said, there’s no denying Walker’s impressive characterisation of Dejanira, though Tomlinson rather hams up the role of Hercules. Jennifer Smith makes a sweet if slightly insipid Iole – insufficiently characterised to drive Dejanira literally mad with jealousy. Of all the soloists, Anthony Rolfe Johnson is outstanding, bringing the minor role of Hyllus vividly to life in just three arias. Here and there Gardiner holds back the dramatic thrust, with some deliberate recitatives, and one or two long pauses between items, but the contributions he extracts from the choir and orchestra are superb. Kate Bolton