Samson and Dalilah by Camille Saint-Saëns

Presented by l'Opéra de Montréal

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Samson and Delilah, a brief summary of the story as presented in the opera will precede the review of the show:

Act 1 – A Square in Gaza
The Hebrews are being held in slavery by the Philistines. Samson, bestowed with incredible strength by God, encourages them to have faith in their God and hope for the future. Abimélech, governor of the city, arrives with guards to mock, discourage and oppress them. Samson beats Abimélech in a fight and encourages his people to revolt. They win and the High Priest of Dagon (one of the gods worshipped by the Philistines) is angered.

The Hebrews express their gratitude for their victory after the battle. As everyone is celebrating, Delilah Queen of the Philistines, comes along and attempts to seduce Samson. A wise old man tries to warn Samson against following her, but he seems to find her charm overpowering.

Act 2 – The Valley of Sorek
Delilah prays to the gods to give her the strength to seduce Samson to find his weakness. The High Priest of Dagon comes to tell her that Samson and the Hebrews have defeated the Philistines and offers to pay her to find the secret to Samson's strength. She refuses his money, saying that she will complete this task out of her hatred for Samson.

Samson meets Delilah in the Valley, where she attempts to seduce him into revealing his secret. Samson believes that the brewing storm and thunderous clouds are a sign from God to resist her. He succumbs to her when she accuses him of not loving her and leaves. He is captured by the Philistine soldiers when he follows her.

Act 3 – Scene 1. A dungeon in Gaza
Samson's hair, the source of his powers, has been removed and he is chained and blindfolded in a dungeon. He is deeply remorseful over his actions and he pleads to God to spare his people.

Scene 2. In the Temple of Dagon
The Philistines celebrate the downfall of Samson and ridicule him mercilessly when he enters the temple. Delilah reveals that she used him and lied about ever loving him to learn the secret of his incredible strength. During a celebration to Dagon, Samson prays to God to restore his strength. His prayers are answered and he destroys the temple.

Place-des-Arts was transformed this Thursday with an incredibly immersive and minimalistic set, music written by a Romantic era genius, and incredible performers that brought the stage and music to life. A simple, slanted platform and two walls became everywhere from a desert valley to an ornate temple with the use of beautifully crafted projections and gorgeous, vibrant costumes.

The first scene opened to a darkened stage with an abstract, sky-like image projected on the background. The inky sky and incredibly quiet orchestra began the story somewhere bleak, drab and macabre. Mysterious voices began in a barely-audible hush seemed to arise from the ashes of the earth. The lights faded in like a dismal sunrise and only then were the hopeless noticed, lying motionless on the ground as if the weight of their slavery was too great a burden to bare. Their gradual movements made them look like maggots struggling for a meal in the dirt.

The first brilliant splash of colour was the red of the guards' uniforms, a colour theme that presented itself each time safety or sanity was compromised. It occurred again in the temple, when the High Priest learned of the unconquerable rebellion, and in the Valley of Sorek when Delilah manipulated Samson into revealing the secret to his power. Even as the women sang of the beauty of spring and we met Delilah for the first time, their elaborate garments and the world that surrounded them had a reddish-orange tinge to it.

Red wasn't the only colour that played a valuable part in expressing the mood and subtext of what was happening on stage. A recurring pale blue described hopelessness and despair in the beginning, and when Samson was alone in the prison cell. This colour theme was accompanied by a dynamic motif in the music as well. Much like in the beginning, the haunting voices of the Hebrews emerged as if from nowhere when Samson was imprisoned. Only this time, Samson's solitude was accentuated as the Hebrew brethren he betrayed sang from where the audience could not see them.

The last recurring colours that told the story were the use of grey and gold to represent both God and Dagon, perhaps as a beautiful way of subtly unifying these two opposing spiritual entities. As Delilah seduced and manipulated Samson in the Valley of Sorek, the intricate, abstract red designs were the foreground to a treacherous grey thunderstorm. In the Temple of Dagon as the people worshipped, artistically shot, nude contemporary dancers performed in grey-scale as wisps of grey and golden light surrounded and encircled them. It was beautiful. The temple itself was golden, lit aflame with red as a sacrifice of golden jewelery was made to Dagon. Lastly, Samson reduced the temple to a desolate, grey dust.

These carefully crafted colours were the work of artistry brilliant enough to rival Saint-Saëns' music itself. Each performer brought outstanding life to their roles, their powerful voices filling the entire hall. The orchestra was flawlessly expressive, creating a foundation of unrivalled support for the performance as a whole. The show runs until January 31st at the Wilfrid-Pelletier Hall at Place-des-Arts. The chance to see this outstanding work should not be missed.

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