Opera Scotland

Samson 2015Dundee Choral Union

Read more about the opera Samson

The major choral societies still sing many Handel works, but the vast majority of those performances are of Messiah, varied occasionally with the Coronation Anthems.

It is therefore refreshing to find Samson, composed only slightly later than the Messiah, making a rare appearance. Its only previous performance by Dundee Choral Union was as long ago as 1884. Its neglect seems astounding, as there is a vast amount of top-notch Handel here, both choral set pieces and arias. The situations initially promise little. The source poem is Milton's Samson Agonistes, composed on classical lines, with Samson in prison and blinded from the start. He is visited successively by friend Micah and his father Manoah, later by two of the Philistines - his wife Dalila, and the giant Harapha. However, the static nature of this drama is never in the least dull.

Sam Furness, singing in Scottish Opera's Jenůfa later this season, successfully brought out the lyrical side of Handel's writing for Samson, in a role that is often played with an emphasis on the dramatic vocal elements. It is a long part, and he successfully negotiated it without revealing any sense of fatigue. His acting also overcame any appearance of being restricted within the concert context.

The other soloists made an excellent team. No-one else has anything like as much to sing, but each created an instant character sketch with economical means. Megan Read was particularly successful as Dalila, outwardly charming, inwardly the opposite. Louise Collett managed to avoid any monotony  in the consistently comforting Micah. The two basses were well contrasted - Jonathan May as Samson's old father, intense and moving, while Dominic Barberi successfully brought out the youthful arrogance of Harapha.

Sarah Power remembered from her fine performance in the title role in Rodelinda, had three roles, her Philistine Woman opening the show with a charming aria and accompanying and duetting with Dalila, was sweetly sung, but didn't really project words. She improved greatly, as the Messenger describing the destruction of the Temple, and sang the wonderful 'Let the Bright Seraphim' with an ease and purity of tone that was thrilling.

Over fifteen years ago, soon after he became Scottish Opera's Head of Music Staff, Derek Clark conducted several performances of this great work, without venturing away from the company's usual venues. Here, at last, was some compensation. He and the orchestra of Scottish Opera provided a superb accompaniment, supremely crowned by two solos. The obbligato trumpet in 'Let the Bright Seraphim' was crisply dispatched by Simon Bird, while Richard Blake supplied a beautifully limpid flute accompaniment to Dalila's central aria, 'With plaintive notes'.

It should be considerably less than 130 years before we hear Samson again in Dundee. And can the Choral Union now please start performing a sequence of these glorious Handel oratorios. They are wonderful, dramatic works, with plenty for the choral forces to sink their collective teeth into.

Performance DatesSamson 2015

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Caird Hall | Dundee

22 Mar, 19.30

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