SAINT-SAÀNS: Samson et Dalila

While the overture has always been a perennial concert favorite, and the symphony has always been admired, the opera has had an unfair share of detractors and critics, even during the composerís lifetime. The opera, conceived in 1867, was premiered at Weimar in 1877, through the influence of Saint-SaÎnsí friend, Liszt, and it would not be staged in the composerís homeland until 1890. Upon closer scrutiny into the composer, one can see that the opera mirrors Saint-SaÎnsí personal situation and the political struggle in France during the composerís youth. In addition, the character of Dalila is a composite of three very influential, at times detrimental, women in the composerís life: his mother Mme. Saint-SaÎns, the singer Pauline Viardot to whom the opera is dedicated, and Augusta Holmes.
In Samson et Dalila, Saint-SaÎns presents a tightly woven and seamless score from which not one note can be spared, not one instrument or voice is miscast, and no situation in the libretto not perfectly matched to the score. Saint-SaÎnsí music is at times heroic, seductive, compassionate, and spiritual. The Bacchanale, the most criticized part of the work, is an orgy of sound and decadence mixed with Samsonís cry for redemptionóa fitting end to the opera.
This two CD set is a budget re-issue originally recorded in July 1979, following a performance at the ThÈ·tre Antique National díOrange. There are many worthy moments in this recording as well as some minor flaws, and the three principals, Domingo, Obraztsova, and Bruson, give a valiant and exciting performance.
Domingo, who still sings this role, had not yet developed the excessive nasal tone which would later plague him, and at the time of this recording he gave the leading character a youthful vigor and naivetÈ not usually found in other interpreters. Most appealing is his Act II interaction with Dalila, ìEn ces lieux, malgrÈ moiÖî and the Act III prayer like ìVois ma misËre, hËlas
Unlike Voltaireís character for Rameauís opera on the same subject, Fernand Lemaireís Dalila does not lust for the Biblical hero; instead, she uses her sex and allure as a weapon against the weaker Samson. This Dalila is strong, determined, and vengeful. As such, Russian mezzo-soprano Obraztsova, among her many roles, an excellent Amneris and
Azucena, would at first glance seem a good choice for this opera; her instrument is sharp without being edgy, at times careless without being unpleasant, and always exciting, but as Dalila, not always parallel to the sensuality in the music. Her rendition of ìPrintemps qui commence… î is very deliberate rather than seductive or alluring; and in the opening monologue of Act II, ìSamson, recherchant ma presenceÖî her diminuendo and chest notes are ineffective and out of character. These minor pecadillos are later redeemed in her scenes with the High Priest, ìJíai gravi la montagneÖouiÖdÈj· par troi foisÖî and with Samson, ìEn ces lieux, malgrÈ moiÖMon cúr síouvre a ta voixÖMais! Non! Que dis-je, hÈlasÖ,î and later in Act III, ìSalut! Salut au juge díIsraÎlÖGlorie ‡ Dagon vainqueurÖî following the Bacchanale.
Of the three principals, Bruson seems the least comfortable singing in French (followed by Obraztsova) but the unmistakable sound of his instrument redeems him, in particular during the scene with Dalila Act II, ìJíai gravi la montagneÖOui dÈj‡ par trios foisÖ,î and in Act III ìSalut! Salut au juge díIsraÎlÖGlorie ‡ Dagon vainqueurÖî
The chorus, essential to this opera, is credibleóthe voices always in unison, well-rehearsed, and excellently handled by Oldham. Of the supporting cast, Pierre Thau, as AbimÈlech, and Rober Lloyd as the Old Hebrew make the best of their respective roles, though they both sound rather detached.
The Orchestre de Paris is in top form, and is served well by Argentinean conductor Daniel Barenboim. He lavishes attention to the score, and treats every instrument as a soloist with the desired effect of the listener being able to individually, and continually hear all the notes and subtleties in the music, including those in the more complex ensembles. The deliberate pauses in the score are faithfully adhered to, and further emphasize the drama in the music. One minor comment to Barenboimís conducting is his slow approach in several key passages, which shifts the emphasis of the music and the singing from religious fervor to a ìlullabyî (Dieu! Dieu díIsraÎl), and from seductive to ìelegantî (Printemps qui commence, Danse des prÈtresses de Dagon)órobbing the listener from an otherwise careful, energetic and flawless performance. Likewise, the interlude prior to Dalila shearing Samsonís hair is chillingly effective, as is Dalilaís ìMon cúr síouvre a ta voix,î the introduction to, and Samsonís Act III aria, ìVois ma misËre, hËlas,î the much maligned Bacchanale, and others.
Overall this is a good recording to own. However, one word of caution: the budget reissue does not provide a libretto, and the breaks between the tracks are, more than once, sufficiently noticeable to be unpleasant.
Daniel Pardo 2005

image_description=Camille Saint-SaÎns: Samson et Dalila
product_title=Camille Saint-SaÎns: Samson et Dalila
product_by=Placido Domingo, Elena Obraztsova, Renato Bruson, Pierre Thau, Chúers de líOrchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim (cond.)
product_id=DG 477 560-2 [2CDs]