The American mezzo Joyce DiDonato is currently touring Europe with Les Talens Lyriques and their conductor, Christophe Rousset, to present works from Furore, her upcoming CD of Handel mad scenes. She recently wrote a very interesting piece for London’s Guardian newspaper in which she shared some of her insights into Handel’s genius. Here’s what she had to say about “Where shall I fly,” from the composer’s 1745 English-language oratorio/music drama, Hercules:
“It’s not the outlandish plot that intrigues me, but the way in which Handel presents this woman who begins the opera already slightly unhinged by her grief, and sculpts her downfall into one of the greatest scenes of madness ever written, yet never once resorting to caricature.
“In the immense, exhausting final mad scene, ‘Where shall I fly’, I ran into great difficulty trying to make it work, and at each dead end, I would return again to the score to search for an answer. It was always right there waiting for me: the repeated ‘See! See! See!’ announcing the horror of her visions, the relentless melismas as she attempts to flee the furies, the jagged lines, and the hollow calls for the black shades of night to hide her.”
And here’s a clip of her performing that aria in 2004, with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants:
The next time someone tries to pass off the tired old claim that Handel’s arias lack dramatic intensity, or that it’s all but impossible to stage them effectively, I think I’ll just show them this video.