Heads up. The MET Live in HD will present an encore performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila” on Saturday at Fort Lewis College.
“Encore” means a filmed version of a live performance originally scheduled earlier. This is the second and final change for the Met’s original 2018 HD schedule. Once Delilah, or Dalila as the French would have it, seduces Samson on Saturday morning, you’ll have to wait until December for the next operatic love affair. “La Traviata” will stream live to FLC on Dec. 15.
The Met’s new production of Saint-Saëns’ sumptuous 1877 opera will no doubt delight traditionalists. Tony award-winning Broadway Director Darko Tresnjak stylishly reimagines 10th century Gaza. The Philistines, pronounced “Fliss-teens” by those who remember Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 movie, lord it over tattered Hebrew slaves in a Hollywood-esque spectacle. Tresnjak and his team from the ornate and funky musical “A Genteman’s Guide to Love & Murder” have glazed Gaza, the Temple of Dagon and Dalilah’s seductive lair with sugary excess.
Saint-Saëns’ three-act opera begins in a town square where Hebrew slaves cringe in captivity. Their leader, Samson, enters and berates them for their lack of faith. When a Fliss-teen commander enters, piling on ethnic and religious insults, Samson snaps and kills him.
None of that is in the original source: The Bible’s Book of Judges 16:4-31. Samson’s brazen attack was added by librettist Ferdinand Lemaire, a cousin of a cousin, it’s rumored. Lemaire ignored all of Samson’s biblical exploits that established his reputation as a strongman: killing a lion bare-handed, slaying 1,000 enemy soldiers with the jawbone of an ass, etc. Instead, composer and librettist concentrated on the steamy love affair and Dalila’s disastrous betrayal.
In Act II, Dalila invites Samson into her pillowed chambers. Is it love or is it political?
She’s been promised 1,100 pieces of silver from every Philistine lord (Judges 16:5) if she convinces Samson to reveal the secret of his strength. Three times she begs, and the fourth time, he gives in (Judges 16: 6-14). Eavesdropping guards act fast. Samson is captured, shorn, blinded and taken to prison.
Act III is brutal. But you know how the story ends. It’s embedded in our cultural memory. On Saturday, we’ll see how the new Met production presents the final bacchanal and Samson’s revenge.
In 1877, the opera premiered in Weimar, Germany, not Paris – a tangled tale that involved Saint-Saëns’ colleague and friend Franz Liszt at the Grand Ducal Palace. The premiere was sung in German, and it wasn’t until November 1892 that “Samson” opened in Paris in French. The opera’s success triggered the American premiere at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 4, 1893.
The Met has invited Latvian mezzo Elina Garanc to sing Dalila. Roberto Alagna sings Samson. Bass-baritone Elchin Axizov sings Abimelech, the commander who gets killed in Act I. Dmitry Belosselskiy appears as the Old Hebrew who warns Samson about what will come and is paid no mind. Sir Mark Elder conducts, reminding us that this is a co-production with the English National Opera.
Running time is three hours and 20 minutes. Sung in French with English subtitles.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.