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Donald Feldman
American Record Guide, November 2010

All of the singing and acting is first rate, especially Hercules, Deianira, and Juno. Concerto Koln demonstrates their impeccable credentials, particularly on the dance numbers with Blu-Ray surround coding. The extras package is also of considerable value. I enjoy all of this opera extravaganza, the historical components, the musical arts, and the technology.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



David L. Kirk
Fanfare, July 2010

Francesco Cavalli lives pretty much in the shadow of his teacher, Monteverdi, whose three operas are frequently performed. Not so with most of Cavalli’s extant works. When you watch the Netherlands Opera production of Ercole amante it becomes clear why performances of this very large work are few and far between. It is a long opera that requires a large cast of singers and dancers. The Netherlands Opera production is truly a labor of love and daring venture.

The basic plot is simple: Hercules wants to bed his son’s girlfriend. His wife, their son, and the girlfriend are not pleased by this. For three hours an assortment of deities and the girlfriend’s deceased father are outraged and conspire against Hercules. Only a few of these ancillary characters support Hercules in his amorous endeavor.

Ercole amante was written to celebrate the marriage of King Louis XIV of France to Marie-Thérèse of Spain. The opera was intended to be a lavish court entertainment; a new theater was built for the occasion. Unfortunately the theater was not completed on time, so the premiere was delayed a year and Cavalli’s opera Xerse was performed instead. The French composer Lully composed dances that were inserted into both of these Cavalli operas. King Louis danced in the opera to the great delight of the audience (did they have a choice?). It is unknown if Louis was aware that the opera was about the abuse of power and that Hercules was a thinly disguised depiction of the King.

The Netherlands Ercole amante is a big-budget production. It employs a large cast, magnificent costuming that is colorful and often whimsical, elaborate scenic effects, and some ingenious motorized props. The staging is very imaginative and cleverly gives the feeling of Baroque opera even when modern elements are incongruously added to the mix. I wasn’t quite as smitten with the scenery. The stage appears to be quite large, a huge expanse to fill. A few of the set pieces are brilliantly colorful with large bold patterns like wallpaper patterns blown up to gigantic proportions. On video they often overwhelm and detract from the performers. This perhaps was caused by the lighting, which I find harsh and too white. Huge shadows are cast on the scenery and occasionally over the performers. This might have been effective in the theater, but with the tight focus of home video it is distracting and sometimes annoying.

Don’t let these quibbles dissuade you from watching this video. The performance is three hours 18 minutes long (plus five minutes of curtain calls) and is never boring. David Aldin’s creative direction and the talented cast bring this very old opera to life with vivid characterizations and ingenious business. There is not a weak or second-rate voice in the cast; everyone (chorus included) is consistently engaged in the drama. A few performers play multiple roles and create individual characterizations for each. Luca Pisaroni is outstanding as King Louis/Hercules. Pisaroni is a slender man who transforms himself into a muscle-bound Hercules by donning a plastic costume piece by piece. Perhaps aided by the limitations of the costume, he struts and swaggers as a bully, but is strangely likable.

Bonus material is available on both discs. On disc 1 is a synopsis of the plot and “cast gallery.” The synopsis runs for 10 minutes; a voice-over narrator tells the story while pictures from the production are shown. It is well worth your time to watch this before watching the opera.

There are three bonus features on the second disc. Singers Johannette Zomer, who plays three comprimario roles, and bass Luca Pisaroni are the subject of bio-pics that run about 10 minutes each. Much longer, and perhaps more interesting, is the 30-minute feature The Making of Ercole amante.

The opera spans both discs: acts I through III on disc 1, acts IV and V on the second. The picture is 16:9 widescreen. There are two sound formats: LPCM stereo and digital surround. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch. The subtitles (at least in English) alternate between the top and bottom of the screen. The lack of punctuation and splitting sentences into phrases occasionally makes making sense of what is being sung tricky.

If you like Baroque opera, or are looking for an introduction to Cavalli’s under-appreciated works, or just want to see a classy and imaginative opera production, this Netherlands Ercole amante is recommended.



James Reel
Fanfare, July 2010

 My colleague has reviewed the DVD version of this release; the Blu-ray version fell into my hands. We see eye-to-eye on most of the issues, so I’ll add only brief remarks. First, I’m not bothered at all by the scale of the sets, which seems perfectly reasonable on my wide screen and indeed offers very interesting perspective, imaginatively employed by video director Misjel Vermeiren. Also, I enjoy stage director David Alden’s conceit of setting up the Hercules story as a fantasy of King Louis after he suffers sexual dysfunction (or else rejection) on his wedding night…In terms of contents, the Blu-ray package is identical to the DVD. As usual, its primary advantage is coupling high-definition video to the DTS-HD surround sound; the blacks and the colors are remarkably rich, particularly the golden costumes in the final act. I second David L. Kirk’s enthusiastic recommendation.



James Reel
Fanfare, July 2010

 My colleague has reviewed the DVD version of this release; the Blu-ray version fell into my hands. We see eye-to-eye on most of the issues, so I’ll add only brief remarks. First, I’m not bothered at all by the scale of the sets, which seems perfectly reasonable on my wide screen and indeed offers very interesting perspective, imaginatively employed by video director Misjel Vermeiren. Also, I enjoy stage director David Alden’s conceit of setting up the Hercules story as a fantasy of King Louis after he suffers sexual dysfunction (or else rejection) on his wedding night…In terms of contents, the Blu-ray package is identical to the DVD. As usual, its primary advantage is coupling high-definition video to the DTS-HD surround sound; the blacks and the colors are remarkably rich, particularly the golden costumes in the final act. I second David L. Kirk’s enthusiastic recommendation.



Gramophone, June 2010

An action-packed early French opera that is a riot of colour and creativity

In Germany, Britain (Handel at ENO, Monteverdi at WNO, La Calisto in 2008 at Covent Garden), and now the Netherlands, American director David Alden’s stagings of early operas, often conducted by Ivor Bolton, have revelled in the diversity, humanity and comedy of these multi-disciplined works.

Ercole amante (“Hercules as Lover”) was Cavalli’s offering for the Paris wedding of Louis XIV. A soon-to-be-familiar operatic combination of technical problems and Franco-Italian bitchery (Lully, who reserved the writing of the ballet music for himself, had his share too) delayed the premiere and took the gilt off its success—although his majesty did actually dance in the performance. Ercole spins that tale of the self-satisfied, overambitious semi-divine hero over-reaching himself, and coming to grief on Earth but bliss in the heavens. HIs quest is to abandon wife Deianira in favour of Iole, his son Hyllo’s beloved. In this, Ercole is egged on or misguided by goddesses Venere and Guinone, and comic servants Licco and Paggio. He is brought down by a conspiracy of the wronged starring the return from the underworld of Iole’s father Eutyro and ghostly colleagues. All this is abundantly clear in Alden’s production—but there’s not a syllable about it in Opus Arte’s pretty but generalised booklet.

The production, like the piece, is moving, funny and literally action-packed. Alden knows well when to fill or empty his stage. All the effects that Paris’s famous 1660s Salle des Machines provided—Giunone flying in, Nettuno rising from the sea on a huge boat—are here. There is also a stream of little comic decorations like Hyllo’s trainers, Ercole’s huge 12-pack of Heineken and the representation of Sonno (“sleep”) by a character dancer. Jonathan Lunn’s choreography is, rightly, not restricted to the “dance sections ’ and moves seamlessly from Lully to Lady Gaga.

The look of the show—designer Paul Steinberg, lighting by Adam Silvermand—is “modern” in the sense that 17th-century Italian Baroque is realised through eyes informed by 20th-century American painting and comic strips. Coloured printed wallpapers and rich red, blue and yellow costumes dominate. The prologue scenes at court, the descent to the scary black-and-white underworld with Eutyro coming out of his coffin, and the gold and blue of Ercole’s heavenly apotheosis, are as lavish as a Sun King could want—and seem well served by the depth and definition of the Blu-ray pictures. For the soloist’s costumes Constance Hoffman uses a similarly heightened, modern-refracted period look, with Ercole as hero sporting a long blond wig (good for flicking), overall plastic body prosthetics, boxing shorts and platform heels.

Cavalli seems to have been especially stirred by the plight of Hyllo, the antics of the comics and the long section (called here Act 4, scene 7) in which Eutyro and other dead are recruited against Ercole. Bolton leads his large authentic-instrument forces with gusto.





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10:39:59 PM, 22 December 2014
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