[Met Performance] CID:287880
Samson et Dalila {165} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/28/1987.

(Debut: Jean Fournet

Metropolitan Opera House
March 28, 1987


Samson..................Jon Vickers
Dalila..................Marilyn Horne
High Priest.............Louis Quilico
Abimélech...............Terry Cook
Old Hebrew..............John Macurdy
Philistine..............Mark (W.) Baker
Philistine..............Russell Christopher
Messenger...............Charles Anthony
Dance...................Ricardo Costa
Dance...................Linda Gelinas

Conductor...............Jean Fournet [Debut]

Production..............Nathaniel Merrill
Stage Director..........Lesley Koenig
Designer................Robert O'Hearn
Choreographer...........Zachary Solov

Samson et Dalila received six performances this season.

Revival gift of Mrs. William S. Lasdon

Review of Will Crutchfield in The New York Times

Camille Saint-Saens's "Samson et Dalila" is an opera of earnest purpose and drastically uneven inspiration, plausible in the hands of an extraordinary tenor whose identification with the hero can transcend the ordinariness of his music and a mezzo-soprano who can seize the opportunities of three great arias that stand out like oases in the score. A sensitive conductor who has faith in the idiom is a great help, and the Metropolitan Opera's current revival introduces one in the person of Jean Fournet, making a welcome house debut late in his career. At the [first] performance Saturday night he set the somber mood of the introduction simply and surely. Jon Vickers as Samson sustained it magnificently. Marilyn Home as his nemesis brought every resource of intelligence, technique and subtle knowledge of her voice to make a limited success in a role neither vocally nor temperamentally ideal for her.

Mr. Vickers was at his best. The idiosyncratic grace and strength of line in his movements are at one with the uniquely personal timbre and strength of his voice. Gestures as simple as kneeling in reverence or shaking a fist in defiance are imbued with a certainty of meaning that can only be explained by the singer's own inner conviction. The pride of a fierce religious sentiment unbent by captivity rang through his tones in the first act, and the grainy, anguished sound of his voice in the last embodied the weight of knowing his weakness had brought misfortune not only on him but also on his people.

Mr. Vickers is 60 years old, and to a generation that has heard many tenors far younger falter, the continued potency and security of his voice are remarkable. He can put its full strength behind long, sustained phrases in the region of upper F, G and A flat without strain or apparent fatigue, and he can soften it (to haunting effect in the first-act trio) without fading into insubstantiality. This should come as no surprise: Mr. Vickers has an enormous voice, but does not sing as though a special effort at bigness is the point. And it has been clear for at least four years now that he is going to be one of those singers who approaches the final phase of his career with his wits about him, his choice of roles sound and his vocal technique consolidated rather than flung to the four breezes.

The role of Dalila is rightly associated with a kind of opulent, seductive outpouring that is not Miss Horne's. She has built her vocal character around the contralto warriors of Baroque and bel canto opera, and around the self-assured wit and moxie of Rossini's comic heroines. She seemed to know her full voice was likely to sound brassy rather than voluptuous, using it in the vengeful exchanges with the high priest and avoiding it in the three great arias that are the meat of the role.

In "Printemps qui commence" she almost succeeded in creating a kind of narcotic, lulling lilt. Mr. Vickers helped by playing his reactions in a trancelike slow motion; Mr. Fournet helped with an unhurried, tender accompaniment. But eventually, here and later, one missed the more traditional richness and beauty of sound and the urgency of seduction that speaks through it The performance confirmed on the whole the wisdom of Miss Horne's usual insistence on her own specialized repertory.

A problem in this work is to make the hero's fatal passion convincing. Samson's words in the love scene (and his music, insofar as it has any character) speak of vacillation and self-reproach; the lust for which he reproaches himself has to be taken largely on faith. Mr. Vickers did not try to supply it where the music would not support him; instead he delved even further into the other feelings, turning from Dalila in remorse immediately after his first confession of love. The effect was to underline the theme of Samson's epic guilt and move the opera further from the veristic realm that it cannot successfully inhabit in any case.

Louis Quilico used bluster as the solution for most of the High Priest's demands and found it not inadequate. John Macurdy as the Old Hebrew sang with beautiful, rolling tones; he too seems to have consolidated his technique rather than dissipating it in the autumn of his career, and if one could still ask more of him in the way of musical sensitivity, his contribution was nevertheless a positive one.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).