Parlando: The COC Blog


Hercules Reading Guide

Soldiers in Hercules

While creating the libretto for Handel's Hercules, librettist Thomas Broughton created his composition from a variety of classic sources and, unlike other modern depictions of Hercules, the opera doesn't focus on his lineage as a demi-god, or his 'superhero' achievements, but the very human circumstances that surround his death. This spring, director Peter Sellars takes the tale and adapts it for a modern age, highlighting the emotional, and spiritual, drain of war on soldiers and the families they leave behind at home. To further your understanding of this opera, here are five book selections, some of which you can find in the Opera Shop.


Women of TrachisSophocles, Women of Trachis
Classic playwright Sophocles was a Greek tragedian who wrote over 100 plays in his lifetime (of which only seven remain intact), who also had a career as a treasurer and a strategoi (an official who commands armies), positions which provided him with an interesting perspective on war and soldiers. Written anywhere from 450 BC - 425 BC, his play Women of Trachis is summarily described as a play about Hercules' death, but it truly is a story about his suffering wife Dejanira. The play centres on Dejanira's heartbreak when she discovers that Hercules, who recently returned from many long years at war, took a prisoner with him, the beautiful princess Iole. Dejanira's conflicted emotions of betrayal and sorrow propel the story forward and it's through her rage and jealousy that Hercules' fate is sealed. You can find a translation of the Women of Trachis here.   

The Universe, the gods and menOvid's Metamorphoses
's epic collection of poems came out in 8 AD and took a great deal of inspiration from Hellenic and Classical period tales of Greek history and mythology, including a full chapter all about Hercules. He adapted the tale of Hercules' demise into a short but tragic poem that details how through the cunning of the long-dead Nessus, Hercules' infidelity is brought to justice by an act of unknown betrayal from his wife Dejanira. You can read the excerpt about the downfall of Hercules online here.

The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myths Told by Jean-Pierre Vernant
If Ovid isn't enough to satiate your need for Greek mythology, we have just the book for you in the Opera Shop! Rediscover your favourite Greek myths (or learn them for the first time) with Vernant's expansive book, all told with a refreshing storytelling that's attractive to classical history buffs to enhance their knowledge, and for neophytes to gain some interesting tales for the water-cooler. You can purchase the book for $19.00 at the Opera Shop.


RedeploymentRedeployment by Phil Klay
A major theme in director Peter Sellars' production of Hercules is the emotional transformation of Hercules from a demi-god to a modern American soldier who returns home from war to his family, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Recently climbing up the bestseller list, Redeployment is a collection of stories from the perspective of soldiers fighting in, or returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, written by former marine Phil Klay. Described as a new voice for this generation of war stories, Klay pinpoints the absurdity and terror of war in his stories, while also highlighting the fear and bewilderment that many soldiers feel when they finally make their way back home when all is said and done. You can read more about Redeployment in this New York Times book review and it's available on Amazon


HandelFaber Pocket Guide to Handel
Perfect for the classical music lover who wants the quick essentials boiled down into one book, this pocket guide about George Frideric Handel is like a Cliff's Notes for opera composers. Great for dinner parties or even just a quick reminder about Handel's achievements, recommended books, websites, CDs and DVDs, this is a great starter for any collection. You can purchase this book for $11.75 in the Opera Shop.

George Frideric Handel
Written by the noted musicologist Paul Henry Lang, this biography is widely regarded as one of the greatest studies of Handel's life, his musical style, the history of his compositions and more. A great companion to the Faber book, this is a great study on Handel, as well as his role in the late Baroque period. You can purchase this well-regarded tome at the Opera Shop for $20.50.

Do you have any other recommendations that we may have missed? Let us know what you're reading lately in the comments below. 

Photo: (top) A scene from the Canadian Opera Company/Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC) co-production of Hercules, 2011, LOC. Photo: Dan Rest

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Eight Things to Know About George Frideric Handel’s Hercules

By Nikita Gourski, Development Communications Officer

Eight things about Hercules

This April, Handel’s Hercules has its COC premiere in a new co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Here are eight key things you may want to know before you head to your seat!

1) Based on mythology, rooted in real life
Handel’s Hercules is based on an ancient Greek tragedy, Women of Trachis, written by Sophocles around 450 BC. In addition to being one of the most celebrated playwrights of his era, Sophocles was a war general who understood the emotionally intense – even dangerous – landscape that awaited soldiers and their families after a period of war. Though the subject derives from mythology, Sophocles’ treatment of it was profoundly human.

2) Musical drama
Born in Germany in 1685, Handel moved to London, England, in his mid-20s and took the city by storm with his Italian-language operas. By the 1740s, however, conventional operas were declining in popularity in London and Handel turned his attention to oratorios, musical entertainments sung in English, based on Biblical stories, and performed unstaged (i.e. without scenery, costumes or stage action). Though Hercules (1745) had much in common with the oratorio genre, Handel himself called it a “musical drama,” perhaps recognizing the work’s hybridity: it incorporated operatic conventions (narrative-based structure, da capo arias) as well as oratorio forms (choral music, accompanied recitatives), yielding a new and powerful way of telling secular stories in the theatre.

3) The art of adaptation
The libretto was written by Thomas Broughton, an English clergyman, who in addition to relying on Sophocles’ stage play also spliced in material from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and almost certainly Seneca’s Latin tragedy Hercules Oetaeus. Today, director Peter Sellars has compressed the libretto to bring its structure closer to the Greek play that inspired it, “putting Handel,” as Sellars says, “in direct collaboration with Sophocles.”

4) Visionary director
American stage director Peter Sellars (Tristan und Isolde, 2013) is one of the most important and innovative figures in the performing arts today. Rather than supplying a perfumed escape from the world, Sellars’ productions have always sought to return us to the moral tensions and social problems of our day, with the ultimate aim of reenergizing the arts as a vehicle for moral action.

“In making himself an artist whose preoccupations and concerns grapple with nothing less than the fate of humanity, Peter Sellars has created a body of work that will transcend epoch and place, style and fad.” Opera News

A scene from Hercules

5) Hercules today
Sellars’ production focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder. Hercules is presented as a U.S. Army general who struggles to reunite emotionally with his family after returning home from war in Iraq or Afghanistan. The modern setting illuminates the universal elements of Handel’s work within a grid of contemporary signs – U.S. battle fatigues; Abu-Ghraib orange jumpsuits; flag-draped coffins – while emphasizing that the social and psychological toll of war isn’t a bygone relic, but an everyday reality.

“An opera performance this great is plenty rare. But opera capable of inspiring moral action is for the ages.” Los Angeles Times

In addition to a number of other ancillary events engaging with veterans and their families, on April 4, Peter Sellars will sit on a panel that explores Hercules and the role of music in the rehabilitation and reintegration of those touched by war. Learn more about the Opera Exchange here.

6) War is hell
The minimalist sets are by George Tsypin, designer of the opening ceremony at the Sochi Olympics. Though clearly depicting the modern day – there is a backyard barbecue, cans of beer – the sets also work on a symbolic plane, as partially destroyed columns along the edges of the stage evoke ancient Greek architecture and the physical cost of battle. Combined with lighting designer James F. Ingalls’ use of dramatic reds and oranges, the impression is of a hellish place, scorched and devastated by war.

7) Dream team
The very same team who made Hercules such a hit in Chicago in 2010, are here in Toronto to revisit this poignant tragedy.

Hercules: Grammy Award-winner American bass-baritone Eric Owens makes his COC debut in the title role. As Hercules, he “speaks to you even in his silences… and shakes you when he singsChicago Sun-Times.

Dejanira: British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote returns after her making her COC debut as the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, 2011. Her Dejanira “ranks with theatrical performances of legendsLos Angeles Times.

Lichas: American countertenor David Daniels returns to the COC after last appearing in Xerxes, 1999. He's been called “the most acclaimed countertenor of the day, perhaps the best everNew York Times.

Hyllus: American tenor Richard Croft returns to the COC after more than twenty years (Così fan tutte, 1992). His performance as Hyllus is “profoundLos Angeles Times.

Iole: British soprano Lucy Crowe makes her COC debut as the imprisoned princess, and is “a major discoveryChicago Tribune.

British conductor and Baroque specialist Harry Bicket returns to the COC after conducting Orfeo ed Euridice, 2011; Idomeneo, 2009; and Rodelinda, 2005. Conducting this production of Hercules in Chicago, he gave “a performance true to the spirit of Handel’s time yet truer still to Sellars’ stress pointsLos Angeles Times

8) Suffering, transformed
“Handel believed that the first way to go into a difficult or dangerous place is with a lot of beauty. So the music is just ravishingly beautiful. It transmutes the suffering into another place…” Peter Sellars. Explore Handel’s transformative score with our Hercules listening guide.

Photos: (top) Lucy Crowe as Iole and Eric Owens as Hercules; (middle) Eric Owens as Hercules; (middle) A scene from Hercules; (bottom) (l–r) Alice Coote as Dejanira, David Daniels as Lichas and Richard Croft as Hyllus. All photos from the Canadian Opera Company/Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC) co-production of Hercules, 2011, LOC. Photos: Dan Rest

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The Big COC Podcast Episode 22

By Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager

For Episode 22, the “All cross-over, all the time” edition, we welcome back opera journalist Paula Citron and opera conductor Stephen Lord, and joining The Big COC Podcast for the first time is Jenna Douglas, a Toronto-based collaborative pianist and founder of the new opera blog, Schmopera. Gianmarco Segato, the COC’s Adult Programs Manager is your host. 

This episode’s stories all somehow settled around that eternal question of “How the heck do we manage to keep opera ‘relevant’?” 

Are you listening? Let us know your thoughts, opinions and suggestions by commenting here, or on Facebook, Twitter or by e-mail (

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001