From the Biblical "Book of Judges" to Milton's 1671 "Samson Agonistes"
- which coined the phrase "Eyeless in Gaza" that gave Aldous Huxley's
great 1936 novel its name - including the giant Harapha of Gath (what a
name!) and enough iterations of the number 30 to make prominent kabbalist
Madonna's head spin, Samson has had a complex, intriguing history.
Saint-Saens and his librettist, Ferdinand Lemaire, simplified the story
for the 1877 "Samson et Dalila" - boy loves girl, girl betrays boy, boy
brings down the temple. Of course, there is also music, a pagan orgy
(inevitably made hilariously grotesque by hapless choreographers), good
roles for the tenor and the mezzo, and visual delights aplenty.
Tonight, at the opening of the San Francisco Opera season, there was
much to see. Dede Wilsey aparently bought up all the roses in Equador,
to decorate the War Memorial (in the theater, the lobby, the gala tents)
with astonishing configurations of densely-packed flowers. On stage, a
well-preserved revival of the 2001 production here, Douglas W. Schmidt's
phantasmagoric sets, Carrie Robbins'opulent costumes (although did the
young Philistine women really look like Tahitian hula girls?), and -
sorry to give the story away - the collapse of the temple that didn't
look nearly as impressive as six years ago.
Returning also from 2001, Olga Borodina as Delilah. Back then, this
was the report: "If she managed to sustain her best more frequently, she
could easily be one of the great singers in our time. But she doesn't,
so she isn't. And that's truly too bad because there are few mezzos in
the world with her instrument and ability. Borodina, of all singers,
should not revert to routine as often as she does, shouldn't settle for
the languid, the mild-mannered, the obvious."
Against that history, tonight's Act 1 was musically exciting. Ian
Robertson's chorus successfully struggled against Patrick Summers'
thundering orchestra (with a much better balance for the rest of the
evening), Eric Jordan made a sensational "true French singer" debut in
the five-minute "throwaway role" of Abimelech, before being beaten to
death, and then came Borodina, singing quietly, beautifully, astonishingly
Alas, by Act 2, non-communicative (uncaring?), calling-the-performance-in
Borodina returned, making the 41-minute act feel twice as long as the
43-minute first act. What is Delilah without passion, without believability,
without intensity? It's a mezzo, with a gorgeous voice, doing the work
that has to be done. NOT to get applause after "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta
voix" from an audience which greets the tiki-loaded temple of Dagon
heartily tells the story right there.
As to Samson, your heart must go out to Clifton Forbis. Imagine that
you're a tenor, taking the stage immediately after the company general
manager asks for a moment of silence in honor of Luciano Pavarotti (who
made a half dozen important role debuts in this house), the silence
broken by a recording of "Nessun dorma" - and now you're on, "top that!"
Also, wearing the same wig and costume Placido Domingo had here in 1980
didn't do much good for Forbis.
The tenor, who has the voice and stamina for Tristan, had neither
for Samson on this occasion. It was not a poor performance, but not
a particularly good one either. As to chemistry, if Borodina wouldn't
know passion if the Philistine god Dagon had a private affair with her,
Forbis was much too busy marshalling his troubled resources tonight to
pay any attention to the woman with the shears.
Juha Uusatilo, the solid Dutchman here a few years back, was the adequate
but indifferent High Priest. A question to the supertitle manager: did
Hebrews really sing (in Act 1) "(we) the meek became the oppressors"?
Just how close is that to the French text? And question in general:
what is one to do with 50,000 used roses?
[log in to unmask]
The CLASSICAL mailing list is powered by L-Soft's renowned LISTSERV(R)
list management software together with L-Soft's HDMail High Deliverability
Mailer for reliable, lightning fast mail delivery. For more information,
go to: http://www.lsoft.com/LISTSERV-powered.html