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.
Diana Forrest (reviewing for Local Sound Focus) considered this “[a]nother riveting and thought provoking work from Tim Benjamin”.
The premiere performance was recorded, and the film premiered on Saturday 8th July 2017 in the Clothworkers Concert Hall, University of Leeds in a public performance with Q&A with the composer, Tim Benjamin. This was as part of the programme for the conference Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World. The film is available to purchase on DVD from the Hercules Project.
The pre-performance-talk by Tim Benjamin, followed by the screening itself is available to stream from the University of Leeds School of Music.
Resources to accompany the performance and support its performers appear on the Resources page.
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 (bottom of this page) which discusses the compositional process, musical influences and the attraction of the hero Herakles.
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
Interview with Tim Benjamin on the compositional process (22 mins 25 secs):