Saint-Saens: Samson et Dalila

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Saint-Saens
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Samson et Dalila
PERFORMER: Marjana Lipovsek, Carlo Cossutta, Alain Fondary, Yves Bisson; Vienna Volksoper Chorus, Sofia Chamber Choir, Bregenz Festival Chorus, Vienna SO/Sylvain Cambreling
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1774-2 DDD
This is a live recording made at a performance during the 1988 Bregenz Festival. Steven Pimlott’s staging of Saint-Saëns’s most successful opera fashionably updated its action to the contemporary Middle East, which proved more popular with the public than with critics, but fortunately the musical standard of the production was high. Sylvain Cambreling’s conducting of the Vienna Symphony and a splendid chorus recruited from Vienna, Sofia and Bregenz bring out all the drama inherent in the opera’s score as well as its scented exoticism. The largely choral Act I, which can too often be made to come across as a static piece of pastiche oratorio, is here a fully integrated part of the drama which follows.

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There are more voluptuous-sounding Delilahs on disc than Marjana Lipovsek, but she projects the character of the seductress forcefully, is effective in her two arias and even more so in the erotic duet with Samson, ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’, which lies at the heart of the work. Carlo Cossutta, a reliable if not very exciting dramatic tenor, was somewhat past his prime by 1988, but his is an intelligent performance, at its best in the first scene of Act III after Samson has been shorn of his strength. In general, this is a thoroughly decent account of the opera, but no match for Domingo and Waltraud Meier on EMI. Charles Osborne