“Hercules’” by Handel: PTSD in Ancient Greece

Handel’s “Hercules” recently opened at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with a question as new as today’s headlines and as ancient as the Acropolis.

When a soldier returns from battle, who suffers most—the soldier, or the family welcoming him home?

This tale plays out at Lyric with a constellation of singers who illuminate the stage with their vocal pyrotechnics and dramatic abilities. Raw emotion is so real and so intense, the production flies by, though it runs longer than 3 hours.

Amazing American countertenor David Daniels plays family friend Lichas. He assists the weeping Dejanira, whose husband, Hercules, has been at war for 18 months. English mezzo Alice Coote is the disconsolate wife, and her flexible voice sustains anguish and pain at fever pitch.

Hercules, sung less gloriously by American bass-baritone Eric Owens, returns disoriented and full of rage. To the fury of his wife, he brings a prisoner, Iole, a princess from the conquered country. English soprano Lucy Crowe, in her Lyric debut, is a perfect Handel soprano, her golden voice navigating Baroque embellishments with silken splendor.

Hyllus, son of Hercules and Dejanira, is sung by American tenor Richard Croft. His love duet with Crowe in the final act is exquisite.

Lyric’s superb chorus punctuates the drama at 5 points, with their chilling “Jealousy” as the show-stopper. They wear rainbow-colored hues, providing relief from the principals’ dull attire, including Hercules, who looks as if he just stepped out of “The Hurt Locker.” English conductor Harry Bicket leads the Lyric Orchestra.

Director Peter Sellers’ political agenda permeates the production, but he retains the underlying question of who suffers most when a warrior returns? The original Sophocles play is titled “The Women of Trachis” and Handel gives his females 3 times more arias than the males. You figure it out!

“Hercules” is sung in English with English supertitles at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, through March 21. Call 312-332-2244 or visit lyricopera.org.