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date: 25 February 2020


  • Stanley Sadie


Musical drama in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto by Thomas Broughton after Sophocles ’ Trachiniae and Ovid ’s Metamorphoses; London, King’s Theatre, 5 January 1745 (concert performance).

Hercules is not an opera, nor (as it has sometimes been called) an oratorio. The original description was ‘musical drama’. It was not intended for staging, though like many of Handel’s biblical oratorios it shows signs of being conceived in visual terms and has several times been given on the stage. During the 1740s Handel was occupied principally with oratorios, many of which aspire to the nature of Greek tragedy in their treatment, and with Semele (1744) and Hercules he moved into the realms of Greek tragedy itself. The London public, however, was not receptive to it; the moral and uplifting element that was a part of the appeal of the biblical oratorios was lacking. Hercules had only two performances initially; it was revived for a further two each in ...

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