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Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Samson and Dalila (1876) [123.31]
Placido Domingo (tenor) - Samson; Waltraud Meier (mezzo) - Dalila; Alain Fondary (baritone) - High Priest of Dagon; Jean-Philippe Courtis (bass-baritone) - Abimelech; Samuel Ramey (bass-baritone) - An Old Hebrew; Christian Papis (tenor) - A Philistine Messenger; Daniel Galvez-Vallejo (tenor) - First Philistine; Francois Harismendy (baritone) - Second Philistine
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opera Bastille/Myung-Whun Chung
rec. 1-11 July 1991, Opera-Bastille, Paris. DDD
[46.16 + 77.15]
Experience Classicsonline

Saint-SaŽnsí opera Samson and Dalila, the composition of which he completed in 1876, has had a poor press over the years. It got off to a bad start due to the initial lack of interest in an opera with a biblical subject. Criticism of Saint-SaŽns from Tchaikovsky and Debussy also did the composer no favours. Yet the opera proved itself at a highly successful premiŤre in 1877 at the Grand Ducal Theatre. The debate still simmers as to whether the work is an opera or an oratorio. Acts 1 and 3 lean towards the oratorio whilst Act 2 is more operatic. Nonetheless it is a fine work, and it is here given a superb performance.

This Opera Bastille version makes for an exciting performance from the very beginning, with a thrilling build-up of tension at the opening, getting it off at once to a gripping start. The chorus and orchestra are excellent, performing, as they do, with both good technique and also with passion and fire. The soloists are also all good. Placido Domingo is as robust as ever, and Waltraud Meier (who plays Dalila) has a strong, rich and mature voice that works very well here. 

Conductor Myung-Whun Chung brings out the operaís drama brilliantly, and manages to the make the piece work as a whole Ė lessening the stylistic disparity between the Acts, and creating a powerful and convincing whole. The conclusion Ė when Samson, with his strength restored, brings the temple crashing down Ė is majestic and overwhelming Ė symptomatic, in fact, of the entire performance. This is both an opera and a recording that will please both those familiar with Saint-SaŽnsí often under-rated music, and those new to him and wishing to explore further.

Em Marshall


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