LIVE REVIEW: Herakles, Todmorden Choral Society and Todmorden Orchestra, Todmorden Town Hall, 30th April

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This was the world première of a new oratorio, composed by Tim Benjamin with text by Anthony Peter, Tim Benjamin and Emma Stafford. Unlike an opera, an oratorio does not have staging, so the backgrounds of Herakles are created in the listener’s mind by the text and music.

The oratorio was introduced by Claire Benedict, an authoritative and expressive narrator, as Time. This was a spoken part.

Spoiler alert: former rulers Tyranny (Elspeth Marrow, with a lovely rich voice) and Royalty (Rebecca Moon, who ably expresses passion and power) reproach Herakles for their downfall. We go back in time to when Zeus sent the young Herakles to see Tyranny and Royalty and their kingdoms in order to decide which system would be best for mankind. Zeus (James Fisher) was impressive but could have used more volume. Herakles (Zachary Smith) conveyed a sense of innocence but also of an underlying strength. Hermes (powerfully voiced by Jean-Pascal Heynemand) is sent to escort Herakles to the two realms.

Time describes the history of the lands they pass through, marked by human folly. In a chorus describing a battle, the music has a hopeless feel. The words are at first warlike but eventually admit, “We wander wounded now and starve…”

Hermes and Herakles first visit the realm of Royalty, where all is conformity and abstract nouns. Herakles asks a question, which is one question too many, and has to leave for “a harder path”.

The second half opens dramatically with the travellers approaching Tyranny’s realm. The chorus express the greed and hatred resulting from the rule of Tyranny, where all her subjects are at each other’s throats. Tyranny praises power and wealth. Again Herakles asks an unwelcome question and is hurried away.

It is not hard to guess the answer Zeus wants from Herakles, but it is not the answer he gets. Herakles chooses self determination for mankind and he, Royalty and Tyranny are all banished, Herakles to mankind and the former rulers to Hades. Herakles sings again a song in praise of his home and the birds that live there in freedom.

Another riveting and thought provoking work from Tim Benjamin.