Samson and DalilaSamson et Dalila
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921)
Oper in three acts
Libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire
First performed on 2nd December 1877 in Weimar
Premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 15th May 2011
In French language with German and English surtitles
|Stage design, Costume design||Patrick Kinmonth|
|Light design||Manfred Voss|
|Chorus master||William Spaulding|
|High priest of Dagon||Markus Brück|
|Abimelech, the Philistine satrap of Gaza||Seth Carico|
|An old Hebrew||Ante Jerkunica|
|A Philistine messenger||Clemens Bieber|
|First Philistine||Gideon Poppe|
|Second Philistine||Carlton Ford|
|Chorus||Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin|
|Orchestra||Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin|
The biblical figure of Samson and the many facets of his personality allow many comparisons, but – it must be said at the outset – none of these holds up. Samson is different. Even though his story is reminiscent of his successors found in the New Testament: Samson is no Jesus. His birth, proclaimed by an angel, heralds the liberation of Israel from the hands of the Philistines. The place: Gaza, Palastine, around 1100 B.C. From his mother's (infertile) womb to one of God's chosen, Samson is the invincible hero, the effective weapon in the Hebrews' struggle to achieve their freedom. The wrathful young man murders and sets fires in the encampments of the enemy. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
From the enemies' encampments, as later with Romeo, he chooses his beloved, sealing his subsequent fate: Delilah, the beautiful Philistine, the object of his passionate desires, is no Juliette, young and faithful. She is the sinister woman, the seductress, a Lilith figure, to whom Samson submits with absolute devotion.
How can you say that you love me when your heart is after all . Thrice you have deceived me and not told me the secret of your great strength. (Judges 16, 15)
Delilah succeeds in eliciting Samson's greatest secret. She cuts his long hair, and his super-human power vanishes. At the mercy of the Philistines, bearing the hopes of Israel, he is blinded and led off to the Dagon temple. Subjected to scorn and derision, Jehova comes to his aid and restores his old strength. Samson rocks the pillars of the temple and buries himself and his enemies under the ruins of the temple. The suicide of an extremist as God's wish that the Jewish people triumph? Hardly.
In this saga of hatred and holy war, of power and desire, there is no victor and no truth. The god-like is diminished, power restricted, taboos are broken, love betrayed. Only the composer can afford uninterrupted pathos in the wonderful duet of Samson and Delilah in the second act, which misleads us to believe in a moving story of love. Perhaps it truly is. The story of Samson is contradictory, it is human. Camille Saint-Saëns completed the work in 1876, but was only able to bring about its first performance in 1877 through the mediation of his friend Franz Liszt – with pre-eminent success – in Weimar. In France, where the elements of oratorio and the influence of Wagner were not well received, the first performance would not follow for another 13 years.
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»There is a moment in the story of Samson –as he falls asleep in Delilah's lap –, which seems to summarise his entire being. Samson lies enraptured in a child-like, nearly embryonic stage of development, completely detached from the dominant violence, helplessness and sexual urges that make his life hell. It is of course just the moment at which his destiny is sealed, as Delilah already clasps his braids and the knife with which she will cut them away and outside the Philistines already celebrate their triumph in front of the door. Soon his might will vanish, and his eyes will be cut out. Before long he will be forsaken – his days are numbered. And it is precisely then that he finds peace, perhaps for the first time in his life. While he is being so brutally betrayed – and fully conscious of this - he achieves a state of absolute peace. Peace with himself and the tragedy of his turbulent life." [David Grossmann: Löwenhonig]
A Coproduction with the Grand Théâtre de Genève
Kindly supported by Förderkreis der Deutschen Oper Berlin e. V.
Pre-performance lecture (in German): 45 minutes prior to each performance