Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns
WORKS: Samson et Dalila
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Waltraud Meier, Alain Fondary, Jean-Philippe Courtis, Samuel Ramey; Orchestra of the Opéra de la Bastille/Myung-Whun Chung
Saint-Saëns’s biblical epic used to be dismissed as a kind of Hollywood B-movie opera, a Cecil B De Mille costume-drama set to meretricious though undeniably vivid music. Its fortunes have, however, improved over recent years. This new recording, with Myung-Whun Chung directing his Bastille forces, makes a good case for this most professional of composer’s sense of structure, and his skill and subtlety in the handling of orchestral and harmonic colours. The sound quality conveys these well, though the choral forces tend to be too distant and spread out.


Plácido Domingo, in his second attempt at the role on disc, sounds if anything more ardent and youthfully heroic than on his first (1978) recording: this is consistently impressive singing, delivered in convincing French. Waltraud Meier’s Dalila is a powerful portrayal, though one not without its rougher moments and a certain suggestion of the stage vamp. Alain Fondary is a vigorous High Priest and Jean-Philippe Courtis an aptly nasty Abimelech, while a piece of luxury casting offers the sonorous bass of Samuel Ramey as the Old Hebrew. The alert Parisian chorus manages some lovely soft singing, while the finer details of Saint-Saëns’s scoring all register clearly. George Hall