Ercole Su’l Termodonte – Antonio Vivaldi
directed by Alan Curtis
starring Zachary Stains, Mary-Ellen Nesi
Opera has become the most static of the performing arts with fewer new operas being written and produced today. That’s why this reconstruction of Vivaldi’s lost story of Hercules and the Amazons is so delightful. It’s effectively a new work, vetted with the name of one of the greats of antiquity. Ercole (aka Hercules, played by Zachary Stains) and his troops attack the Amazons, an odd group where all male children are put to death, yet somehow they continue to have children. Antiope (played by Mary-Ellen Nesi) leads the Amazons, and when her daughter Martesia (Laura Cherici) is captured by the Greeks, they get pretty excited, as they haven’t been home in years. The Amazons capture a Greek, and as soon as Antiope swears to sacrifice him, Martesia falls in love with him. Now, THAT’S opera!
But enough plot, opera isn’t about story, it’s about spectacle and symbolism. There are two sets, one of live olive trees where the Amazons live. The Greeks spend much of their time in a forest of broken penises, representing the ultimate failure of war over love. What’s most striking are the costumes. Antiope wears thigh-high boots and a see-through breast plate. Her co-Amazons are mostly topless, and Hercules wears nothing but a cape. It’s not exactly opera in the nude, but it’s a lot sexier than your typical evening of large women howling at the lighting.
The disc has some useful extras including multi-lingual subtitles, and an interview with Pascoe which I recommend you check out prior to watching the opera itself. The soundtrack comes in two flavors, Linear PCM 2.0, and Dolby surround. I can’t say there are any timeless arias here that make the operatic top 10 list, but the novelty of new Vivaldi makes watching this a real joy, and a great gift for the opera fan.