Parlando: The COC Blog


Inside Opera: Hercules, Parts One & Two


For the past month we've followed director Peter Sellars, conductor Harry Bicket and the cast of Hercules as they rehearsed together for the first time in three years to recreate Sellars' emotional production of Handel's great opera. During rehearsals we had the opportunity to chat with bass-baritone Eric Owens (Hercules), mezzo-soprano Alice Coote (Dejanira), countertenor David Daniels (Lichas), soprano Lucy Crowe (Iole) and tenor Richard Croft (Hyllus) about the artistic process as they step back into the shoes of the complex characters they brought to life in Chicago in 2011. 

Inside Opera: Hercules Part One

Featuring interviews with Peter Sellars, Eric Owens, David Daniels, Alice Coote and Richard Croft.

Inside Opera: Hercules Part Two

Featuring interviews with conductor Harry Bicket and Lucy Crowe.

Hercules runs until April 30 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Click here for more information or buy tickets today.


Photo: Eric Owens as Hercules in the Canadian Opera Company/Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC) co-production of Hercules, 2011, LOC. Photo: Dan Rest

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Opera Exchange — Coming Home: Handel’s Hercules

Opera Exchange

On Friday, April 4, join us as we explore Hercules and examine music’s role, both historical and contemporary, in the rehabilitation and re-integration of those touched by war. At this special Opera Exchange, Peter Sellars will be joined by former CBC war correspondent Brian Stewart, musicologists Kip Pegley and Susan McClary, 18th-century literary/drama scholar Brian Corman as well as veterans from World War II and the wars in Korea, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. 

This special Opera Exchange may be over, but you can watch the events unfold in the video below, you can also view the #OperaExchange hashtag to see what kind of conversations we had throughout the day.

Coming Home: Handel’s Hercules

Friday, April 4, 2014, 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Vivian and David Campbell Conference Facility, Munk School of Global Affairs, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON M5S 3K7 - View Map


9:30 a.m. – 9:40 a.m. Welcome and introductory remarks
Sherry Lee, Associate Professor, Faculty of Music (History and Culture), University of Toronto.

9:40 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Peter Sellars in conversation with Susan McClary
Peter Sellars, Director, Hercules; Susan McClary, Professor of Music, Case Western Reserve University. Chaired by Sherry Lee.

10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. "English Opera or Dramatic Oratorio: Handel’s Hercules"
Brian Corman, Professor, Department of English and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, University of Toronto. Chaired by Sherry Lee.

11:15 a.m. -11:35 a.m. BREAK

11:35 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. "American Hercules: Cleaning Up the Operatic Stables"
Susan McClary, Chaired by Sherry Lee.

12:20 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. LUNCH

1:45 p.m. – 1:50 p.m. Introduction to afternoon session
Katherine Semcesen, Associate Director, Education and Outreach, Canadian Opera Company.

1:50 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. “Music and Canadian Veterans: Past Practices, Future Hope"
Kip Pegley, Associate Professor, School of Music, Queen’s University (Kingston). Chaired by Katherine Semcesen.

2:30 p.m. – 2:50 p.m. BREAK

2:50 p.m. – 2:55 p.m. Introduction to panel discussion
Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager, Canadian Opera Company.

2:55 p.m. – 3:55 p.m. Aftermath and Injury: The Hard Return from War
Panel discussion moderated by Brian Stewart, Former Foreign Correspondent and Distinguished Senior Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs. Panelists: Daryl Bradley, Corporal, 1 CDHSR (Retired); Romeo Daley, President of Korea Veterans Association Unit 15 Niagara; Anthony Feinstein, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Director, Neuropsychiatry Program, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre; David Quick, Lieutentant-Colonel (Retired), SMV, CD; Peter Sellars.

3:55 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Closing Remarks
John English, Director, Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History

Presented in partnership with The Munk School of Global Affairs and the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.


Images: (top) Banner image by BT/A; (middle) (l – r) Alice Coote as Dejanira, Eric Owens as Hercules, Lucy Crowe as Iole, Marckarthur Johnson as a soldier and Richard Croft as Hyllus in the Canadian Opera Company/Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC) co-production of Hercules, 2011, LOC. Photo: Dan Rest

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Moments of Discovery: Delving deeper into Hercules

Hercules - Alice Coote and David Daniels

By Claire Morley, Associate Manager, Editorial

If opera is a profoundly collaborative art form, it could hardly ask for a better keeper than Peter Sellars. “I don’t think of myself as a director ever,” he explains. “You have amazing people in the room – brilliant singers, composer, and usually somebody who wrote pretty amazing words. You have visual art and you have movement. Somebody has to invite all these elements to meet in interesting ways, to take risks and actually have a conversation about something that is difficult and not obvious. All of these complicated interactions need someone to help negotiate the exchange – my job is to be useful in those conditions.”

Sellars’ collaborative approach is especially evident in Hercules, allowing all five singers in this production (Eric Owens, Alice Coote, David Daniels, Richard Croft, Lucy Crowe) to establish a powerful rapport and chemistry that is rare to witness on stage. This is the second time this cast and creative team have worked together on Hercules, the first occurring in 2011 when the production premiered at Lyric Opera of Chicago and was called psychologically penetrating and spellbinding” (LA Times). Having the chance to see them work together again is to Toronto’s advantage.

As Sellars points out, “We can go further. The first time you’re just trying to pull it together; the second time out you can say ‘Okay, we know what this is, now let’s go much deeper.’”

Richard Croft as Hyllus and Lucy Crowe as IoleEven before arriving in town for rehearsals, the cast began revisiting their roles as they prepared to work together as a team again. As Alice Coote (Dejanira) put it, “I can’t wait to see the cast of Hercules again. The profundity of the piece means we get kind of close!” And Lucy Crowe, who portrays prisoner of war Iole says, “Having lived with the role for the past three years, the character has developed further in my mind. I think about her – I will watch the news and see victims of war, unfortunately too often. This adds to the depth of the emotions with which I portray her.” 

In fact, Hercules conductor Harry Bicket, who was also part of the 2011 Chicago team, considers Iole’s first aria (“Daughter of Gods, Bright Liberty!”) to be a particularly moving moment. Iole has been captured and, in Sellars’ production, sings her aria about freedom while chained, wearing an orange jump suit and black hood. Bicket recalls, “We were worried people might be offended, but Peter’s take was actually that, for instance, when an American president or defense minister talks about freedom and what it means to go liberate another country, it has a very different resonance to somebody who is tied up and being tortured. I’m not someone who thinks that all opera should be directly political – this is more of a human issue, and I think that speaks to people of any political persuasion.”

As Bicket points out, “One of the advantages of Handel is that the score is really just a sketch – you aren’t given exact instructions the way you would with a piece by Stravinsky or Strauss. With Handel, in many ways, it’s more open.” Sellars adds, “What’s so beautiful about Baroque music is you can sing it in an extremely personal way – it’s very improvisatory. Each performer creates something that is quite personal – you witness somebody searching their own heart and finding their own confession, moment of discovery, and moment of recognition.” Aiding in the search for these moments is, according to David Daniels (Lichas), what makes Sellars particularly strong at directing Handel operas. “Peter makes everything so relevant, the way Handel is also very relevant the way he writes his music and characters. People really connect with Handel emotionally.”

Eric Owens (Hercules) echoes Daniels’ sentiments, and recalls that at the end of rehearsals in Chicago, “sometimes we would all just be crying. Peter does not direct to provide comfort to his audiences – he directs to make things relevant to them.” Ultimately, these intense experiences translate into something that can be felt by artists and audience alike. And delving this deeply into the opera and each role requires profound levels of trust between everyone involved, allowing for the creation of that magical rapport we witness on stage. When it comes time to perform, Richard Croft (Hyllus) says that “Going out on stage is a lot like going into battle. It’s good to know that Harry will be there for us in the pit.”

Says Bicket, “Anyone who has ever done a show with Peter thinks it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. He has a wonderful ability to make people feel what they are doing is really important.”

This article also appears in our Hercules house program.

Photos: (top) Alice Coote as Dejanira and David Daniels as Hyllus; (middle) Richard Croft as Hyllus and Lucy Crowe as Iole. All production photos from the COC/Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC) co-production of Hercules, 2011, LOC. Photos: Dan Rest

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