Hyperion Records

Hercules, HWV60
First line:
Dissembling, false, perfidious Hercules!
composed in July/August 1744; first performed at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London, on 5 January 1745
author of text
after Sophocles' Trachiniae

'Handel: Arias' (CDA67979)
Handel: Arias
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Act 1 Scene 2. Aria: There in myrtle shades reclined (Dejanira)
Act 2 Scene 6. Aria: Cease, ruler of the day, to rise (Dejanira)  Dissembling, false, perfidious Hercules!
Act 3 Scene 3. Aria: Where shall I fly? (Dejanira)

Hercules, HWV60
‘Handel has set up an Oratorio against the Operas, and succeeds. He has hired all the goddesses from farces and singers of Roast Beef from between the acts at both theatres, with a man with one note in his voice and a girl without ever an one.’ The politician-cum-litterateur Horace Walpole may have deplored the triumph of Samson at Covent Garden in February 1743, but after the final collapse of Handel’s operatic ventures in 1741, there was no going back. Oratorio, an unlikely but successful amalgam of Italian opera and English anthem that also drew on Purcellian masque, Greek tragedy and French Classical drama, had decisively ousted opera seria.

Spurred by public acclaim for Samson, Handel embarked on a contrasting pair of works, Semele and Joseph, for the 1744 Lenten season. While Joseph was a financial success, Semele flopped. Undeterred, Handel composed another pair of oratorios, one Biblical, one Classical, for the following season: Belshazzar and Hercules, composed in July and August 1744 and premiered at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, on 5 January 1745. Another disguised English opera, albeit without Semele’s erotic titillation, Hercules likewise failed with Handel’s new, predominantly middle-class public. It hardly helped that one of the principal draws, Susanna Cibber, in the role of the herald Lichas, was ill on the first night. After just two thinly attended performances Handel temporarily suspended the oratorio season and offered to repay his subscribers. He never risked a full-length Classical drama again.

While far less familiar today than Semele, Hercules, to a libretto by Thomas Broughton based on Sophocles’s Trachiniae, is a drama of sombre magnificence (its predominantly dark tinta may have been one reason for its failure). At its centre is the tragic figure of Hercules’ wife Dejanira, a role to rival Saul as a study in the corrosive power of jealousy. Little is known about the ‘Miss Robinson’ who created the part. But the music that Handel wrote for her suggests that she must have been a fine singing actress.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2014

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