Samson et Dalila

Opera in 3 Acts by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Samson et Dalila is based on the well-known biblical story in the Book of Judges. The Philistines have enslaved the Hebrews. But a Hebrew strong man creates havoc. He is seduced by the Philistine beauty who is induced to facilitate his destruction. Finally, Samson, the blinded prisoner, prays that his strength will be renewed: he brings their temple and their world crashing down.

Saint-Saëns’s opera is ideal for a concert performance. The evocative chorus of down-trodden Hebrews Dieu d’Israël sets the scene in Gaza. Tuneful Philistine girls hail the arrival of Spring and their victorious warriors, Voici le printemps. And towards the end, the rejoicing Philistines continue to party as dawn breaks: chorus and soloists come together to worship their god, Dagon, L’aube qui blanchit.  

In between, there is the sensuous music that most of us love to hear. We luxuriate in ‘best-tunes’ such as Dalila’s Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse and the love duet Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix. The orchestral colour is superb.

There were restrictions on staging a biblical story. The première, arranged by Liszt, was in Weimar in December, 1877. Thirteen years later, Fauré, the composer of the Requiem, conducted the first performance in France. Saint-Saëns regarded Samson et Dalila as his masterpiece. By the time of his death it had received over 500 performances.

© Michael Steen 2016

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