Samson et Dalila (Samson and Delilah)
  • Camille Saint-Saëns. Opéra in three acts. 1876.
  • Libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire.
  • First performance at the Grossherzogliches Hoftheater, Weimar, on 2nd December 1877.
CHARACTERS

Samson

tenor

Abimélech (Abimelech)

bass

High Priest of Dagon

baritone

Two Philistines

tenor & bass

Philistine Messenger

tenor

Dalila (Delilah)

mezzo-soprano

An Old Hebrew

bass

Defeated by the Philistines, the Hebrews lament their fate. The Philistine Abimelech proclaims the superiority of Dagon and is struck dead by Samson, who, with his people, is cursed by the High Priest of Dagon. He plans to use Delilah in an effort to overcome Samson. She appears, as the day dawns, luring Samson with her charms. At her retreat in the valley of Sorek, Delilah is urged by the High Priest to capture Samson. When he appears, intending to leave her, she tries to elicit from him the secret of his strength, and as he goes into her house, Philistine soldiers emerge from hiding, to a signal from Delilah. Eyeless in Gaza, imprisoned and turning a mill-wheel, Samson offers his life in repentance. There is a bacchanale in the temple of Dagon and Samson is brought in. Delilah joins others in mocking him, telling him of her duplicity. Samson is led to the two pillars that support the building and in a final effort of strength brings the temple down on himself and the whole assembled company.

There is a Wagnerian element in Samson et Dalila, an expression of the composer’s contemporary preoccupations. The opera marks the height of the dramatic achievement of Saint-Saëns, the second of his 13 operas to be conceived, the third to be completed and the only one with an assured place in contemporary international operatic repertoire. The best-known aria must be Delilah’s Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix (My heart opens at your voice) in the second act. She has exercised her charms earlier in the seductive Printemps qui commence (Spring that begins). The third-act Philistine bacchanale provides a concert orchestral excerpt.