Samson et Delila, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2015Posted on 25 June 2015
Chutzpah is the word for Grange Park this summer. First they manage to attract Bryn Terfel to the main role in Fiddler on the Roof, then they decide to take on Samson et Delila, which requires first rate singers in both main roles and is a difficult opera to stage.
This is perhaps why director Patrick Mason wisely decided to avoid the ancient setting and a fully visible bacchanale — which can look a bit kitsch — opting to place the action in the twentieth century where anti-Jewish attitudes ran riot in continental Europe. Indeed, setting this French opera in Vichy France, and finessing the bacchanale by having the Pétainistes face the audience, watching something we cannot see but clearly getting aroused by it, was very effective. The subsequent book burning, Samson’s entry carrying a sacred Torah scroll and his humiliation by idolaters celebrating a lesser god, before the final moment of destruction, helped bring this ancient tale fully to life.
American tenor Carl Tanner gave the performance plenty of vocal heft as a powerfully convincing Samson, and Gianluca Marciano with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provided sensitive and glowing support, making this a musical treat. Sara Fulgoni as Dalila got off to an uncertain start towards the end of Act I, not helped by poor French diction, but in Act II her voice seemed much warmer and the all important duets with Samson produced a wonderful blending of voices, her body language showing a fine mixture of haughtiness and serenity, matching her appearance as a 1940s film diva. The haughtiness is fully emphasised in Act III of Mason’s production where she appears as a 24-carat bitch.
The production also dealt well with other roles, Michel de Souza giving a fine vocal and stage portrayal of the local Vichy governor (aka High Priest of Dagon), particularly in his important Act II encounter with Dalila as he rose to a commanding crescendo with Tu peux choisir dans mes riches (well surtitled as ‘Name your price, we will pay it’). Abimelech, as a military commander killed by Samson in Act I, was well portrayed and sung by Nicholas Folwell with excellent French diction.
His uniform and other 1940s costumes by Francis O’Connor, notably the black-tie dress for Act III, helped this production convey a contemporary relevance, and Carl Tanner’s Samson, with his superb ‘eyeless in Gaza’ portrayal in Act III, mocked by Dalila and the Pétainistes, left a lasting impression. Grange Park and its fine chorus took on this difficult opera and won — a triumph.
Performances continue on various dates until July 16 — for details click here.