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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Samson et Dalila - Opera in three acts (1877) [125:00]
Samson - José Cura (tenor, designer, director); Dalila - Julia Gertseva (mezzo); High Priest of Dagon - Stefan Stoll (baritone); Abimelech - Lukas Schmid (baritone); An Old Hebrew - Walter Schreyeck; Voice of the Old Hebrew - Ulrich Schneider (bass); Philistine Messenger - Andreas Heideker (tenor); Philistine Soldiers - Sebastian Haake (tenor) & Alexander de Paula (bass); Young Hebrew - Sebastian Schaible
Orchestra and Chorus of the Badisches Staatstheater/Jochem Hochstenbach
rec. live, Badisches Staatstheater, 22, 24 October 2010
Sound format - PCM Stereo, DD 5.1
Picture format - 16:9
NTSC Region Code 0
Subtitles in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Korean
C MAJOR 101631 [125:00]

Experience Classicsonline

José Cura shows off his many talents on this disc. Not only does he sing the main role, a part seldom absent from the stage, but he also designs and directs this production. In addition he has written a brief introduction to the production in the booklet which is helpful in explaining much that is confusing to the viewer. His concern is more with the religious fanaticism displayed by both side, the Israelites and the Philistines, rather than with depicting either side as morally superior to the other. Indeed his aim is to show that only by destroying both groups of extremists can a fresh start be made by the survivors after Samson’s destruction of the setting. However whilst this may be admirable as an intended moral viewpoint what we actually see in this production is far less clear. In particular, despite the many references in Cura’s note to the innocence and purifying effect of the children, this is not readily apparent to the viewer. The ending, where according to the note “Samson sends the little ones away, saving their lives. As he destroys the camp, burying the old way of life, his teenage alter ego leaves with the children, leading them to safety, to a fresh start free of the hatred and the bigotry, the violence and the vengeance”. This would be fine but is not what we see. The video director - uncredited but presumably Cura again - is inordinately fond of dissolves and fades, and close shots where what is being seen is unclear. There is a general lack of clarity as to what is happening. If you did not know the biblical story already you might even be forgiven for realising that Samson had destroyed the pagan temple - or oil installation.
To add to the viewer’s confusion although this is described as being taken from live performances the audience are never apparent and at the end, where clearly the composer expected the curtain to fall quickly amid suitable applause, we hear instead the Israelites lamenting again - or perhaps it is the Philistines as the former would presumably be happy to see their enemies destroyed. All in all I found it hard to avoid the conclusion that in this production “confusion has made his masterpiece”.
However despite this apparently wholly negative conclusion this is nonetheless a very satisfactory performance of the opera in musical terms. Cura as tenor remains an artist of the first magnitude and gives a very satisfying and complete performance of a difficult role. He manages to encompass all the different aspects of Samson. Similarly Julia Gertseva is a fine Dalila, again meeting the various demands of the role as temptress and as almost virago. The other characters are all well cast and the orchestra and chorus are alert under Jochem Hochstenbach’s purposeful conducting.
Overall this is a recording of the opera that is well worth hearing, capturing the essence of the composer’s genius in characterisation and dramatic flow. Like all too many opera DVDs however it is seriously let down by the production. I am sure that I will listen to it again, and equally sure that I will have little wish to see it.  

John Sheppard

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