Parlando: The COC Blog


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

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Hercules / comments (0) / permalink


The Big COC Podcast - Episode 23

By Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager

For Episode 23, the “Winding down with Dignity and Grace” edition, we welcome back opera journalist Joseph So, Ali Kashani, the COC’s Associate Director, Institutional Gifts (and opera aficionado) and, for the first time, Toronto-based arts journalist Catherine Kustanczy. Gianmarco Segato, the COC’s Adult Programs Manager is your host.

As one would expect in the opera world, not all the drama happens on the stage:

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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Free Concert Series Highlights in April

Myriad 3 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

Spring is finally here! Well, at least that's what our calendar says. We're hoping that this month's line-up of classical, jazz and new music will help get you into the spring spirit, and maybe some real spring weather will follow!

Thursday, April 3, 2014
12 - 1 p.m.
Love Song Waltzes
Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio

2013/2014 Ensemble Studio

Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio (singers Gordon Bintner, Charlotte Burrage, Claire de Sévigné and Andrew Haji, with pianists Michael Shannon and Liz Upchurch) celebrate love, life and music in a performance of Brahms' tour-de-force for four voices and two pianists: Liebeslieder Walzer (Love Song Waltzes). The piece is paired with Canadian composer John Greer's whimsical modern answer to Brahms, the Liebesleid-Lieder on texts by Dorothy Parker and others.

Thursday, April 10, 2014
12 - 1 p.m.
Up Jumped Spring
Norman Marshall Villeneuve's Jazz Message Quartet

Montreal's Norman Marshall Villeneuve leads an all-star quartet (Norman Marshall Villeneuve, drums; Michael Shand, piano; Ron Johnston, bass; and Michael Stuart, tenor sax) in an uplifting and fun-filled hour of swinging jazz standards. This quartet's bebop tempos are sure to get your toes tapping and thinking of flowers in May!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
12 - 1 p.m.
Music in the Time of War
Philip Chiu

As a parallel to the COC's mainstage spring production of Hercules, which explores the untold horrors of war and the unspoken complications of reunion, pianist Philip Chiu presents a program of music composed during, and in response to, the two world wars. The program includes Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which can be heard in the video below, performed by Angela Hewitt.

Thursday, April 24, 2014
12 - 1 p.m.
Polar Bears and Lullabies

ArrayMusic’s artistic director Rick Sacks displays his inimitable artistry and showmanship in an eclectic and entertaining hour of solo percussion music featuring the MalletKat, a four-octave electronic percussion keyboard that triggers a vast palette of sounds. The program features the world premiere of Rick's own composition, entitled Necessary Outcome: A Meditation on Richard Dawkins, as well as three of his other works: Polar Bear, Journey, and Lullaby. See Rick's MalletKat improvisations in the video below! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
12 - 1 p.m.
Legendary Ladies
Shannon Butcher Quartet

Toronto vocalist Shannon Butcher and her powerhouse quartet celebrate the sophisticated ladies of song, from Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday, who brought swing and style to the golden age of jazz. Shannon's distinctive style is steeped in the great tradition of these legendary ladies yet possesses a contemporary sensibility and sophistication all her own.

Which concert are you most looking forward to? Let us know in comments or on our Facebook page!


Credits: (top) Myriad 3. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; (bottom) Artists of the 2013/2014 COC Ensemble Studio. Photo: Karen Reeves

Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Free Concert Series / comments (0) / permalink

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