Samson et Dalila

October 11, 2013

One of the glories of French opera. Samson, mighty but vulnerable, is a complete sucker for protestations of love from the manipulative and conniving Dalila – hell-bent on revenge. But it is Samson who brings the house down. Wonderful choruses, the frenzied Bacchanale and the most beautiful mezzo-soprano arias ever written ‘Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix’ (My heart opens to your voice). It will melt yours.


Palestine, 1150 BC. The Hebrews are enslaved to the Philistines in Gaza. Gathered in a square, they beseech Jehovah to release them from their bondage, led by Samson, their leader. When the Philistine commander, Abimelech, denounces the Hebrews and their God, Samson kills him and leads the Hebrews away. The High Priest of Dagon arrives from the Philistine temple and curses Samson’s prodigious strength. He enlists a Philistine maiden Dalila, to seduce Samson. Dalila and her maidens dance seductively for Samson, who is mesmerised by her charms. Despite the dour prophecies of an Old Hebrew, Samson accepts Dalila’s invitation to spend the night with her at her nearby dwelling.


From her retreat in the Valley of Sorek, Dalila calls on her gods to help her ensnare Samson with the most powerful weapon of all – love. The High Priest appears with news of the Hebrews’ victory over the Philistines. Dalila vows to discover the source of his strength. Samson appears, passionate in spite of himself; when Dalila has him in her power, she demands that he show his love by confiding in her the secret of his strength. Samson hears rolling thunder as a warning from God but cannot resist following Dalila inside. She discovers that the secret of Samson’s strength is his long hair, and summons Philistine soldiers. They rush in to overpower Samson, who is blinded and dragged away.


In a dungeon at Gaza, the sightless Samson prays for his people, who will suffer for his sin. He hears their voices castigating him. During a bacchanal in the Temple of Dagon, Dalila and the High Priest taunt Samson. When they force him to kneel to Dagon, he asks a boy to lead him to the two main pillars of the temple. Samson prays to Jehovah to restore his strength, and with a mighty effort he pulls down the pillars to destroy the temple, crushing himself and his foes.

Recommended recordings:
Chung/Domingo/Meier on EMI (find it on Amazon or iTunes)
Prêtre/Vickers/Gorr on EMI (find it on Amazon)