Sunday 30th April 2017 saw the world premiere of Tim Benjamin’s thrilling musical drama Herakles in Todmorden Town Hall. It was performed by the substantial forces of Todmorden Choral Society and Todmorden Orchestra, together with a number of professional instrumentalists; five outstanding professional singers played the roles of Zeus, the mercurial Hermes, and the two terrifying Titans, Royalty and Tyranny; and the story was masterfully narrated by the professional actor who portrayed Time herself. The Town Hall was full to capacity with an audience whose high expectations were not disappointed:
a wonderful collaboration of ideas from a group of incredibly talented people
This work deserves many more performances!
the interpretation of the music goes very well together with the academic research that underlies it
Excellent – a work that must be a candidate for a professional performance and recording – 5*
The narrative of Herakles is based an ancient Greek tale of the young Herakles’ choice between Virtue and Vice, which was popular in Renaissance art, and set as a cantata by Bach. Benjamin’s version follows a re-telling of the story by Dio Chrysostom in his Discourse on Kingship, delivered to the new Roman Emperor Trajan in 98CE.
We are introduced to Herakles in his childhood – portrayed by a treble – before he becomes the famous hero of the Twelve Labours. Destined to be a ruler of mankind, Zeus sends his son Herakles with Hermes, as a test, to the distant mountain eyrie of the Titans Lady Royalty and Lady Tyranny, to discover which he will choose as the model for his own future rule.
In a twenty-first century twist, the choice is framed as one between two extremes which the young everyman Herakles rejects. Instead asserting a mortal right to free self-determination. The contemporary message is complemented by the contemporary take on the traditional oratorio form.
If you missed the premiere, don’t worry! The performance was recorded, and the film will be released on Saturday 8th July 2017 at an event in the Clothworkers Concert Hall, University of Leeds. This will be part of the programme for the conference Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World, but also be open to the public. After this the film will be made more widely available (details to follow).
Details of the 8th July event, and how to purchase tickets, will appear here shortly.
Resources to accompany the performance and support its performers appear below.
Tim Benjamin has a page on his own website which explains his take on the story and from which the text and vocal music can be downloaded. The Hercules Project has a recorded interview with Tim Benjamin which discusses the compositional process, musical influences and the attraction of the hero Herakles.
Resources to accompany the performance and support its performers will appear below.
Narrator: Claire Benedict
Herakles: Zachary Smith (treble)
Lady Royalty: Rebecca Moon (soprano)
Lady Tyranny: Elspeth Marrow (mezzo-soprano)
Hermes: Jean-Pascal Heynemand (tenor)
Zeus: James Fisher (bass)
Music: Tim Benjamin
Words: Anthony Peter, Tim Benjamin, Emma Stafford
Conductor: Antony Brannick
Materials on the background to Dio Chrysostom’s version, the literary legacy of Prodicus’ original “Choice of Herakles” story and its artistic legacy after the renaissance will be posted here as they are produced:
- Booklet analysing the origin and development of the “Hercules’ Choice” story in literature and art (Booklet pdf download 1236kB)
- Pinterest Board with images of the Choice of Herakles
- Emma Stafford’s talk on the origins of the Choice of Herakles story and its interpretation in art, with slides (pdf download 1443kB)