Small picture of Donizetti




Saint-Saëns Samson et Delila

Grange Park Opera, UK,  June 20 - July 16, 2015

Photographs by Robert Workman, courtesy of Grange Park Opera


Grange Park Opera's production of Saint-Saëns' Samson et Delila has earned general praise from the critics. George Hall (The Guardian,  June 21, 2015) thought "Though fussy in places, Mason’s staging is thought-provoking and theatrically alive", while "it is Carl Tanner’s thrillingly sung Samson that provides the evening’s highlight performance". Rupert Christiansen (The Telegraph, June 21, 2015) was broadly of the same opinion "Patrick Mason's new production of the Biblical bodice-ripper could easily have slipped into parody. But it works" and commented on the orchestra's playing that "I haven’t heard this opera for years: it was good to be so forcibly reminded of the score’s sumptuous magnificence". Russell Burdekin saw it on June 24 and has provided the following:

Saint-Saëns originally planned Samson et Delila as an oratorio and there is still an element of staticness and mass choruses about it, particularly at the beginning. Its first performance was under Liszt in Weimar in 1877 and it was 1890 before it was given in France.  It has never dropped entirely out of the repertoire but is still fairly hard to come by.

The drama follows the biblical story and centres on Samson while Delila, a mezzo lead for once, has the two best known arias "Printemps qui commence" and   “Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix”. Patrick Mason, the director, moved the action to Vichy France and its anti-Semitic policies, a surprising but plausible transposition for the original story of Philistine oppression. However, introducing the idea of Nazi book burning seemed somewhat tangential and rather overburdened the parallels. Unfortunately, the book motif was used extensively by Francis O’Connor in the stage décor, which introduced an unnecessary fussiness into what was already a complex two tiered set. O’Connor, however, did make the most of the 1940’s setting to design some elegant costumes.

Although Samson et Delila is not a grand opéra, it shares some characteristics notably the ballet sequence, the bacchanale, possibly the best known piece in the opera. Such ballets are always an awkward problem for directors today as a few scantily clad ladies cavorting about does not have quite the impact it did for a 19th century audience.  Here Mason had a crowd of French high-lifers on stage facing the audience and apparently watching a film, so we were treated to a gamut of their reactions throughout the piece rather than a ballet as such.  The way it was carried off said a great deal for the training and abilities of the Grange Park chorus and if it overstayed its welcome that was down to Saint-Saëns having to pander to his audience's expectations.  Another grand opéra characteristic is the spectacular ending with Samson bringing down the central pillars of the temple and the whole building with it onto the Philistines.  Here Mason had Samson unwrap a bomb and trigger a spectacular explosion to end the evening.

Carl Tanner was outstanding as Samson having both an impressive stage presence and a voice to match.  Michel de Souza as the Philistine High Priest gave a fine performance and the other lesser characters gave reasonable accounts, if occasionally a tad wooden.  My only slight reservation was the Delila of Sara Fulgoni. Partly, it might have been due to the set as her voice tended to be lost when she sang away from where I was sitting which inhibited the impression she was making at times and possibly she lacked something of the seductress but she certainly did not let the performance down.  Maestro Gianluca Marciano and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra gave a terrific account of the score - the timpanist certainly earned his fee in the bacchanale. Overall it was a first class performance by anyone’s standards.

It is unfortunate that Grange Park only released a few photographs and not a set that covered the production as a whole.


The Team


Samson -  Carl Tanner

Dalila -  Sara Fulgoni

Abimelech -  Nicholas Folwell

An Old Hebrew -  Christophoros Stamboglis

High Priest of Dagon -  Michel de Souza


Conductor - Gianluca Marciano

Director - Patrick Mason

Designer - Francis O'Connor


Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

The Grange Park Opera Chorus



                                                                  © Robert Workman

Samson and Jewish refugees



 © Robert Workman




 © Robert Workman




 © Robert Workman




 © Robert Workman




 © Robert Workman

The High Priest



 © Robert Workman

Samson and Delila




Page last updated: June 28, 2015