Metropolitan Opera at
Conductor – Emmanuel Villaume; Samson – Clifton Forbis, Dalila – Marina Domashenko, Abimelech – James Courtney; The High Priest – Jean-Philippe Lafont; An Old Hebrew – Kwangchul Youn.
Story: Samson leads the Hebrews in a successful rebellion against the Philistines. Dalila, spurned by Samson, conspires with the Philistines to find out about Samson’s secret and subsequently renders him powerless. When Samson is brought out to the
This is a familiar story with a major twist. In the opera Dalila (Delilah) was motivated more by unrequited love than by her allegiance to her people. This should make for a more treacherous plot, but somehow it didn’t come through in tonight’s performance. Whether that was due to the opera, the performers, or my lack of perception, I cannot tell.
The overture to Act I led to a long choral number. The singing was a bit unsteady at first, perhaps understandable given the large number of singers involved. The program notes compares this to the oratorios of Handel and Mendelssohn, indeed the choral music sounded complete and had climaxes of its own. The stage set for Act 1 was very simple, although the corn field at the end of Act 1 was cleverly designed. We don’t understand why Abimelech’s clothes had all these hand prints on them; nor do we understand why his nails were so long – but they made for an interesting spectacle. Dalila appeared about 30 minutes into the opera. The trio sung by her, Samson, and the old Hebrew on temptation and resistance was at times a bit confusing. At the conclusion of the Act, I found myself agreeing with one of Saint-Saen’s critics (as quoted in the program notes): “Never has any drama so completely lacked melody as this one, ….” Nonetheless I found the Act quite fascinating. Forbis had a good voice; Domashenko’s was a bit weak in the lower registers.
The setting for Act 2 was strange. The main props were three tepees or cones of unknown significance. In sharp contrast to Act 1 where the chorus had a major role, Act 2 was mostly taken up by Dalila, Samson, and the High Priest; the only exception was the Philistines approaching Samson stealthily at the end. The supposed scheming, hatred, and vengefulness were not quite there. Dalila didn’t appear tormented enough; actually the famous aria “Mon Coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” was wistful and pleasant, and sounded more out of love than treachery.
There was a long intermission (more than 30 minutes) between Acts 2 and 3. Scene 1 was very simple, with Samson turning the mill by himself. Act 2 took place inside the
Perhaps that is a fitting description of tonight’s performance: everything was good, but you just thought they could have done a little better.