Opera Scotland

Samson et Dalila Samson and Delilah

Music

Camille Saint-Saëns (born Paris, 9 October 1835; died Algiers, 16 December 1921)

Text

Ferdinand Lemaire

Source

Biblical (Book of Judges)

 

Premières

First performance: Weimar (Hoftheater), 2 December 1877.

First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 25 September 1893 (concert).

First performance in Scotland: To be confirmed.

Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 April 1997.

 

Background

Saint-Saëns had difficulty in achieving a stage performance in France, largely because of the biblical subject, and the première was eventually mounted by Liszt at Weimar in German translation. It only reached Rouen in 1890. Britain also applied censorship of sacred works on stage so it was many years before this excellent music drama was performed here, and then it was eventually done in English, and in the form of an oratorio. It was only after Richard Strauss’s Salome had battered down the doors that Samson could be fully staged in British opera houses, starting at Covent Garden on 26 April 1909. It appeared in the provinces within months, and rapidly challenged Faust and Carmen to become one of the most popular French operas with British audiences.

 

Characters

Dalila, a priestess of Dagon (mezzo-soprano)

Samson (tenor)

High Priest of Dagon (baritone)

Abimélech, satrap of Gaza (bass)

Old Hebrew (bass)

Messenger (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

In front of the temple of Dagon in Gaza, the Hebrews lament the domination exerted by the Philistines. Samson attempts to encourage them, and then kills Abimélech, who had rebuked them for worshipping the wrong god. The high priest comes from the temple, and rebukes his colleagues for being afraid. News comes of a revolt by the Hebrews. Dalila and the priestesses arrive, and she praises Samson, attempting to lure him to visit her later. An old Hebrew warns him not to be tricked. Later, as Dalila awaits Samson at her house, the high priest visits her. He tells her that the Israelites’ revolt has been successful and that her seduction of Samson is vital, in order to discover the source of his strength and thus have a chance of defeating them. Once the priest has gone, Samson arrives, determined that this will be their last meeting, since it cannot be God’s will. Dalila lures him with the claim that her god is more powerful – Love. Once he is inside, a fierce storm breaks and the Philistine soldiers arrive to capture him. The final act starts in Samson’s prison. He is blinded and his hair has been cut off. He is working a treadmill in the depths of misery. The chorus criticise him for his betrayal of them over a woman. In the temple, the Philistines, including the high priest and Dalila, are celebrating their victory. Samson is brought in and forced to kneel in submission. He asks the young boy who leads him to place him between the temple’s two main pillars, and praying that God restore his former strength, he pushes them apart, causing the temple to collapse.

The Cast

Abimelech
 Satrap of Gaza
Boy
 
Dalila
 a Philistine priestess
First Philistine
 
Hebrew Elder
 
High Priest
 of Dagon
Messenger
 a Philistine
Odalisque
 
Samson
 
Second Philistine
 

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