This film presentation by Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas of the Opéra de Nationale de Paris’ production of Samson et Dalila was captured live from Opéra Bastille, Paris, on 13 October 2016. The screening is of a generous length, running a little over three and a quarter hours which includes two intervals and interviews with the creatives. It is sung in French with English subtitles.
Composed by Camille Saint-Saëns over several years, the story is based on the biblical story of Samson and Dalila. Many aspects of the biblical story are left out but if one was not aware of the traditional story, one’s enjoyment would not have been diminished. The libretto sets the opera up as a tragedy in which the hero Samson is very much undone by his own weaknesses and his fall from grace is severe. Dalila, unfortuantley, is presented rather ambivalently – part seductress hellbent on Samson’s destruction to safeguard her own people’s position, and part spurned lover who tureless seeks spiteful vengeance that has consequences that are so much morfe dire than she might have expected.
As such, the opera focusses on Dalila who almost never leaves the stage and has the signature aria that everyone remembers. Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix (My heart awakens to your voice) is one of the most loved arias for mezzo soprano and Anita Rachvelishvili sang it beautifully and was not troubled by the phrases in the lower register. As Samson, Aleksandrs Antonenko portrayed both strength and fragility. He is a large barrel-chested man with an equally big voice that can be both heavy-duty as well as mellow and gentle.
We were never in doubt about Samson’s inner conflict with himself as he battled to remain true to his people and to God, and not to be distracted by his increasing passions for Dalila. Egils Silins was chillingly superb as The High Priest of Dagon. He stood strongly as a figure of single-minded maliciousness. By contrast Nicolas Testé was a pillar of kindness and benevolence.
Director Damiano Michieletto and designer Paolo Fantin located the opera in modern times in a non-specfic locality. This worked well, which is not always the case when an historical drama is presented out of its original milieu. This clearlybrought to the surface that part of the story that is about the oppression and subjugation of a race, a story that is unfortunately timeless. The split level stage was used to great effect to accentuate a sense of command and conquer – of both one race over another, and of the power of a ruler over his/her own people. The ending of the entire opera is spectacular, and Samson wreaks a ‘conflagration’ rather than a ‘collapse’. Enough said.
The Paris Opera Chorus was a highlight of the production. To a person they presented individual and believable characters in the rebellion scene in Act 1, and sang with great pathos. Again in Act 3 the chorus demonstrated its rich depth in the bacchanalian scene, and conductor Philippe Jordan and the Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris excelled in the lush entr’acte music in Act 3.
Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Rating out of 10: 7
This was the third and final screening of Samson et Dalila as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting the Royal Opera House, La Scala and Opéra National de Paris – exclusive at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.