Sunday, June 17, 2012

Meet Saint-Saëns's Dalila

Including a recording that Maria Callas refused
to allow to be released (don't ask me why!)



Just 'cause we slipped into Act II of Samson et Dalila in Friday night's preview is no reason to go crazy and think we're going to make it to Act III today, but here's the famous "Bacchanale," from the Met's 1983 Centennial Gala, conducted by James Levine.

by Ken

Friday night we heard Maria Callas's riveting 1961 recording of Dalila's Act II-opening "Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!," one of three excerpts from Samson et Dalila she recorded for the first Callas in Paris LP. Only two of those excerpts -- "Amour! viens aider" and the Act I solo "Printemps qui commence" -- found their way onto the record, though. Callas refused to allow the recording of the opera's best-known number (maybe along with the "Bacchanale") to be released, and in fact it wasn't in her lifetime, not slipping into print until 1982, five years after she died.

Our goal today is going to be to get (finally!) to the end of Act I of Samson. But we're going to digress again into Act II to hear what has become one of Callas's best-known recordings, the amping up of Dalila's seduction of Samson.

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila: Act II, Dalila, "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" ("My heart opens at your voice")

My heart opens at your voice like the flowers open
at the kisses of dawn!
But, o my beloved, to better dry my tears,
let your voice speak again!
Tell me that you return to Dalila forever!
Say again to my tenderness
those promises of before, those promises that I loved!
Ah! answer, answer my tenderness!
Fill me, fill me with delight!
Answer my tenderness, etc.

As one sees ears of corn undulating
under a light breeze,
just so my heart flutters,
ready to take comfort
from your voice, which is dear to me!
An arrow is less swift in carrying death
than is your lover to fly into your arms,
to fly into your arms!
Ah! answer etc.

Maria Callas (s), Dalila; Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Mar.-Apr. 1961


IN THE INTEREST OF MAKING OUR WAY TO
THE END OF ACT I, LET'S TAKE ONE SMALL STEP


When we left off in April, the High Priest of Dagon had just discovered the body of Abimélech, the satrap of Gaza, "struck down by slaves," meaning the Israelite rabble newly roused by their young rabble-rouser Samson. He storms off, vowing to make those uppity Hebrews pay. We'll hear the end of that again in the click-through, but for now let's listen to the very next thing that happens: this ravishing orchestral daybreak.

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila: Act I, Daybreak

Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Sept.-Oct. 1962


NOW LET'S FORGE AHEAD IN ACT I OF SAMSON


The Samson et Dalila Act I trio "Je viens célébrer la victoire" is sung by Louise Homer, Enrico Caruso, and Marcel Journet in this famous Victor recording made in Camden, NJ, on Feb. 10, 1919, with the Victor Orchestra conducted by Josef Pasternack.
DALILA [to SAMSON]: I come to celebrate the victory
of the one who reigns in my heart.
Dalila wishes for her conqueror
even more love than glory!
O my beloved, follow my steps
toward Sorek, the sweet valley,
to that isolated dwelling
where Dalila opens her arms to you!
SAMSON [aside]: O God! you who see my weakness,
take pity on your servant!
Close my eyes, close my heart
to the sweet voice that presses me.
DALILA: For you I have crowned my brow
with dark clusters of myrtle,
and put roses of Sharon
in my ebony hair.
OLD HEBREW: Turn away, my son, from her path!
Avoid and fear this foreign girl!

[And so on . . .]


IT TOOK US WEEKS (IT ONLY FELT LIKE MONTHS)
TO GET HALFWAY THROUGH ACT I OF SAMSON

THE SAMSON SERIES

Part 1: Introducing Saint-Saëns' Samson, the second-angriest man in opera [3/11/2012]
Chorus and quartet from Act I of Rossini's William Tell
"Arrêtez, ô mes frères" sung by José Luccioni, Mario del Monaco, Plácido Domingo, José Cura, and Jon Vickers
Preview: These two Mystery Openings introduce works that I for one can't wait to hear more of [3/9/2012]
Samson excerpts sung by Georges Thill, Mario del Monaco, Plácido Domingo, Ramón Vinay, and Jon Vickers; plus excerpts from Ponchielli's La Gioconda and Verdi's Otello

Part 2: Let's hear how Samson rallies his people [3/25/2012]
Performances by Jon Vickers, Carlo Cossutta, et al., conducted by Georges Prêtre, Sylvain Cambreling, et al.
Preview: How we get to Samson's heroic first utterance [3/24/2012]
Performances of the opening conducted by Daniel Barenboim and Colin Davis; "Arrêtez, ô mes frères" sung by José Luccioni, Ludovic Spiess, Mario del Monaco

Part 3: Some mighty angry Israelites and Philistines -- the opening scene of Samson et Dalila, part 3 [4/29/2012]
The Abimélech and High Priest scenes, with Ezio Flagello, Simon Estes, Alexander Malta, and Yves Bisson (Abimélech); Paul Cabanel, Renato Bruson, Ezio Pinza, Robet Merrill, and Ernest Blanc (High Priest); Plácido Domingo, José Luccioni, Mario del Monaco, René Maison, Jon Vickers, James King, and Carlo Cossutta (Samson). The complete opening scene conducted by Louis Fourestier (1946, with Luccioni, Charles Cambon, Cabanel) and Georges Prêtre (1962, with Vickers, Anton Diakov, Blanc)

Meet Saint-Saëns's Dalila [6/17/2012]
Second half of Act I with Louise Homer, Marjana Lipovšek, Elena Obraztsova, Risë Stevens, Maria Callas, Christa Ludwig, and Rita Gorr as Dalila; Enrico Caruso, Plácido Domingo, Mario del Monaco, and Jon Vickers as Samson; Marcel Journet, Harald Stamm, Robert Lloyd, Giorgio Tozzi, Richard Kogel, and Anton Diakov as the Old Hebrew (plus Alain Fondary and Ernest Blanc as the High Priest)
Preview: In which we hear a lady weighted by a heap of hurt [6/15/2012]
"Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse" sung by Maria Callas, Christa Ludwig, and Marjana Lipovšek

NOW, AS WE ATTACK THE SECOND SCENE OF ACT I,
LET'S BACK UP TO THE HIGH PRIEST'S TIRADE


So we had the High Priest of Dagon entering the scene to find the mighty Abimélech struck down dead at the hand of the rampaging Hebrews, and laying a curse forever on "the race of the children of Israel." Following the orchestral Daybreak, the older Hebrews sing a "Hymn of joy, hymn of deliverance."

Samson et Dalila: Act I, High Priest, "Maudite à jamais soit la race des enfants d'Israël" ("Accursed forever be the race of the children of Israel"); Daybreak; Old Hebrews, "Hymne de joie! Hymne de délivrance!" ("Hymn of joy! Hymn of deliverance!")
HIGH PRIEST: Accursed be forever the race
of the children of Israel!
I want to erase all trace of them,
to soak them in bile!
Accursed be the one who guides them!
I will crush underfoot
his broken bones, his parched throat,
without a shake of pity!

Daybreak (Orchestra)

OLD HEBREWS: Hymn of joy! Hymn of deliverance!
Rise up to the Eternal!
He deigned in his omnipotence
to succor Israel!
By him the weak have become masters
of the strong who oppressed them.
He conquered the proud ones and the traitor
who once abused him.

Alain Fondary (b), High Priest; Vienna Volksoper Chorus, Sofia Chamber Chorus, Bregenz Festival Chorus, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Sylvain Cambreling, cond. Koch-Schwann, recorded live at the Bregenz Festival, July 21, 1988

NOW WE HEAR FROM AN ELDERLY BUSYBODY

The old Hebrew known just as "an Old Hebrew" (another single-scene bass, like Abimélech), who feels obliged to regale the just-entered Samson and the other younger Hebrews with some of his dire Old Testament-type wisdom of caution and warning. After which: "The doors of the temple of Dagon open. Dalila enters, followed by Philistine women holding garlands of flowers in their hands. After they sing their greeting to spring, we hear Dalila launch her assault on Samson, declaring, "I come to celebrate the victory of the one who reigns in my heart," which will blossom (in a moment) into a trio with Samson and the Old Hebrew.

Samson et Dalila: Act I, Old Hebrew, "Il nous frappait dans sa colère" ("He struck us down in his anger"); Philistine Women, "Voice le printemps, nous portant des fleurs" ("Here is spring, bringing us flowers") . . . Dalila, "Je viens célébrer la victoire de celui qui règne dans mon coeur" ("I come to celebrate the victory of the one who reigns in my heart")
OLD HEBREWS: He struck us down in his anger,
for we had defied his laws.
Later, our foreheads in the dust,
toward him we raised our voice.
He told his beloved tribes:
"Rise up! March into combat!"
I am the Lord of Hosts [armies],
I am the strength of your arms.
OLD HEBREWS and THE OLD HEBREW:
He has come toward us in our distress,
for his sons are dear to him.
Let the universe jump with joy.
He has broken our irons!
Hymn of joy! Hymn of deliverance!
Rise up toward the Eternal!
He deigned in his omnipotence
to succor Israel.

PHILISTINE WOMEN: Here is spring, bringing us flowers
to adorn the brows of the conquering warriors!
Let's mingle our tones with the perfume of barely opened roses.
Let's sing with the bird, my sisters!
Beauty, gift of heaven, springtime of our days,
sweet charm of the eyes, hope of loves,
penetrate our hearts, pour into our souls
your gentle flames!
Let's love, sisters, let's love always!
DALILA [to SAMSON]: I come to celebrate the victory
of the one who reigns in my heart.
Dalila wishes for her conqueror
even more love than glory!
O my beloved, follow my steps
toward Sorek, the sweet valley,
to that isolated dwelling
where Dalila opens her arms to you!

Harald Stamm (bs), An Old Hebrew; Marjana Lipovšek (ms), Dalila; Vienna Volksoper Chorus, Sofia Chamber Chorus, Bregenz Festival Chorus, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Sylvain Cambreling, cond. Koch-Schwann, recorded live at the Bregenz Festival, July 21, 1988

HERE'S THE FULL "JE VIENS CÉLÉBRER" TRIO

I've tacked on the following "Dance of the Priestesses of Dagon," during which Dalila steps up her, er, focus on Samson -- a lamb to slaughter in her practiced hands.

Samson et Dalila: Act I, Trio, Dalila-Samson-Old Hebrew, "Je viens célébrer la victoire de celui qui règne dans mon coeur" ("I come to celebrate the victory of the one who reigns in my heart"); Dance of the Priestesses of Dagon
DALILA [to SAMSON]: I come to celebrate the victory
of the one who reigns in my heart.
Dalila wishes for her conqueror
even more love than glory!
O my beloved, follow my steps
toward Sorek, the sweet valley,
to that isolated dwelling
where Dalila opens her arms to you!
SAMSON [aside]: O God! you who see my weakness,
take pity on your servant!
Close my eyes, close my heart
to the sweet voice that presses me.
DALILA: For you I have crowned my brow
with dark clusters of myrtle,
and put roses of Sharon
in my ebony hair.
OLD HEBREW: Turn away, my son, from her path!
Avoid and fear this foreign girl!

[And so on . . .]

Elena Obraztsova (ms), Dalila; Plácido Domingo (t), Samson; Robert Lloyd (bs), An Old Hebrew; Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim, cond. DG, recorded July 1978

Risë Stevens (ms), Dalila; Mario del Monaco (t), Samson; Giorgio Tozzi (bs), An Old Hebrew; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Apr. 12, 1958

FINALLY WE COME TO CALLAS'S "PRINTEMPS QUI COMMENCE"

Samson et Dalila: Act I: Dalila, "Printemps qui commence, portant l'espérance" ("Spring that begins, bringing hope")
DALILA: Spring that begins,
bringing hope
to amorous hearts,
your breath that passes
erases from the earth
unhappy days.
Everything burns in our souls,
and the sweet flame
comes to dry our tears;
you restore to the earth,
by a sweet mystery,
fruit and flowers.
In vain am I beautiful!
My heart full of love,
weeping for the unfaithful one,
awaits his return!
Living in hope,
my desolate heart
holds onto memory
of past happiness.
[Addressing SAMSON]
At falling night
I will go, a sad lover,
and sit in the stream,
awaiting him, weeping!

Maria Callas (s), Dalila; Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Mar.-Apr. 1961

AND HERE'S HOW IT FITS INTO THE END OF ACT I

Once again we hear from the kvetching Old Hebrew, with predictably dark forebodings. (Sure, sure, he happens to be right. But since when do prophets of doom get any credit for being right? What world do you live in?)

Samson et Dalila: Act I, Dalila, "Printemps qui commence" to end of act
DALILA: Spring that begins,
bringing hope
to amorous hearts,
your breath that passes
erases from the earth
unhappy days.
Everything burns in our souls,
and the sweet flame
comes to dry our tears;
you restore to the earth,
by a sweet mystery,
fruit and flowers.
In vain am I beautiful!
My heart full of love,
weeping for the unfaithful one,
awaits his return!
Living in hope,
my desolate heart
holds onto memory
of past happiness.
[Addressing SAMSON]
At falling night
I will go, a sad lover,
and sit in the stream,
awaiting him, weeping!
OLD HEBREW: The spirit of evil has led this woman
onto your path to disturb your peace of mind.
Flee the burning flame of her glances!
It's a poison that consumes the bones!
DALILA: Chasing away my sadness,
if he comes one day,
for him my tenderness.
[DALILA while singing regains the steps of the temple and glances provocatively at SAMSON; the latter seems under her spell. He hesitates; he struggles and betrays the unquiet in his soul.]
For him my tenderness.
And the sweet delight
that a burning love
holds onto for his return!

Christa Ludwig (ms), Dalila; Richard Kogel (bs), An Old Hebrew; Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Orchestra, Giuseppe Patanè, cond. Eurodisc/BMG, recorded 1972

Marjana Lipovšek (ms), Dalila; Harald Stamm (bs), An Old Hebrew; Vienna Volksoper Chorus, Sofia Chamber Chorus, Bregenz Festival Chorus, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Sylvain Cambreling, cond. Koch-Schwann, recorded live at the Bregenz Festival, July 21, 1988

Risë Stevens (ms), Dalila; Giorgio Tozzi (bs), An Old Hebrew; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Apr. 12, 1958

FINALLY, LET'S HEAR THE WHOLE SECOND SCENE OF
ACT I IN OUR PRIZED 1962 EMI SAMSON RECORDING


Samson et Dalila: Act I, Scene 2 (complete)

Rita Gorr (ms), Dalila; Jon Vickers (t), Samson; Anton Diakov (bs), An Old Hebrew; René Duclos Chorus, Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Oct-Nov. 1962


UH-OH, WE STILL HAVEN'T GOTTEN BACK TO
DALILA'S ACT II OPENING MONOLOGUE . . .


Well, we did make it all the way through Act I. But if the idea was to tie up with my talk in Friday's preview of Dalila as "a lady weighted by a heap of hurt," well, we didn't get there. It's certainly not in evidence in any of today's music. The point, though, is that it's not until the Act II opening monologue that we encounter Dalila alone. There's no reason not to assume that everything that comes before (and after, in the case of "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix") represents her playing angles of one sort or another.

And I have to say that in claiming Dalila as a victim of sorts here I'm flying without a net -- there's not a lot in the libretto to back it up. But I say there sure is in the music. I guess it's going to take another installment to explain that. And we'll hear then, as promised, from that "Irish cousin" of hers I mentioned Friday.
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