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.
Sophocles, 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.
Ovid'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.
Redeployment 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.
Faber 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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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001