Met's new Samson et Dalila to be telecast in HD

A new production of Camille Saint Saëns’s hot Samson et Dalila* opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2018-2019 season on Monday, September 24. As operas go, Samson et Dalila sits, I would say, quite high on the list of “French operas swimming just below the surface of the standard repertory,” which includes, if you want to stay more or less contemporary with Saint Saëns, operas by Chabrier, Thomas, Chausson, Dukas, Reyer, D’Indy, the lesser Bizets and Massenets, even, later, the singles of Debussy and Charpentier. But of all these, Samson et Dalila is more frequently performed. I mean, when was the last time you saw Louise at the Met?**

Unlike the others, Samson et Dalila has the virtue of two vocally strong characters whose signature solos, Dalila’s mainly, a languid Love Duet, and the provocative Bacchanale have been at home with us since the dawn of recorded opera, unlike snatches from the works of those other composers mentioned above. Okay, Depuis le jour, but ‘greatest hits’ of the rest are either nonexistent or very very hard to find, at least on this side of the pond.

  Roberto Alagna as Samson gives new hope to his people in Act I of  Samson et Dalila

Roberto Alagna as Samson gives new hope to his people in Act I of Samson et Dalila

Though the musical framework surrounding the hits in Samson et Dalila is not at all unpleasant, it sometimes stagnants, leading, dramatically speaking, to a lot of standing around, particularly in the first Act where the downtrodden Hebrews and the oppressive Philistines alternatively give voice to their take on the situation. Early on from the chorus emerges Samson, who urges his people to rise up, affirm their beliefs, and take action. Which they do, though the action is offstage.

Roberto Alagna is Samson in this, his first at the Met. The Biblical character’s feats of strength and moral purpose imply a large shiny voice; as fitting, Alagna’s instrument has developed volume and a broader range than in his earlier years, and, as staged here, Samson is at the center of Act I. Like Rhadames, Alagna takes the heroic stance easily. But on the evening here reviewed he sounded on the dry side already in the first Act, and by Act II it was clear he was experiencing serious difficulties. Hopefully these are temporary; Alagna was replaced by tenor Kristian Benedikt, who, in addition to making his Metropolitan Opera debut, finished the final Act with aplomb.

  Elīna Garanča as Dalila looks on as the exotic dancers whirl around her

Elīna Garanča as Dalila looks on as the exotic dancers whirl around her

Elīna Garanča, on the other hand, as Dalila, is superb in all aspects. In addition to a natural beauty and an eye catching stage presence, perfect for a seductress, she has accessed lower reaches of her voice to meet the musical demands of the role. In this new production under the direction of Darko Tresnjak, Dalila perhaps thinks her prior relationship with Samson can be rekindled, and, when they are together in Act II, maybe she has some hesitations about the snare she and the Philistines have set for Samson. In the last Act she seems to have misgivings about or pity for Samson, who stands before her blinded, sheared, and enslaved. One senses Dalila’s not really 100% on board with the celebration...it’s more in her body language. In sum, brava!

  Elīna Garanča as Dalila and Roberto Alagna as Samson, here rekindling

Elīna Garanča as Dalila and Roberto Alagna as Samson, here rekindling

The High Priest of Dagon is forcefully sung by bass Laurent Naouri, whom we have seen a lot of in recent productions. Abimélech is portrayed by Elchin Azizov; the Old Hebrew is bass Dmitry Belosselskiy; the First and Second Philistine are sung, respectively, by Tony Stevenson and Bradley Garvin; Mark Schowalter is a Philistine Messenger.

Sir Mark Elder conducts a finely etched reading of Saint-Saën’s luscious score, from the still of a summer’s night in the desert to the wild Bacchanale of Act III.

  The Bacchanale in Act III

The Bacchanale in Act III

Samson et Dalila is not by any means a long opera, but, as with Wagner, any staging of Samson et Dalila must cope with the long static moments: the choral work of Act I, a prolonged seduction scene in Act II, and the Bacchanale and celebration of Dagon in Act III, culminated by the collapse of the Temple. Though one gets the sense that Tresnjak created small touches of gesture and expression to delineate fine shifts in the emotional sands, at other times the players seem aimless. At least in the love scene of Act II, the centerpiece of the opera, Alagna and Garnača settle into something approximating sincere, though not vulgar or inappropriate.

Alexander Dodge’s colorful sets seem constructed to represent a world out of time, but then this puts the “timely” costumes and libretto text at odds. The materials from which the structures are built lend themselves to a film set of a more futuristic story, not 1150 BCE as listed in the program. The Temple, which is two halves of a see-through male torso from the waist up, has a passageway through the center: Philistines, maybe even tourists, go in and out throughout Act III; the acrobatic dancers scale it and dangle from it during the Bacchanale, and so on. The torso doesn’t collapse at the end, making it unclear in what way Samson has regained his strength, but there sure is a lot of noise. Austin McCormick’s choreographies in Act I and Act III show a lightness of touch in Act I and, in the Bacchanale, a lot of swirling, athletic swinging and climbing. Big energy stuff, guaranteed to be arousing. Linda Cho’s costumes for the dancers are appropriately scant.

Samson et Dalila is an opera well worth your time invested.  

Review performance: Monday, October 1, 2018

Photos: Ken Howard.

Samson et Dalila is performed as written in three acts. The running time of the HD performance is just about three and a half hours; there are two intermissions.

Samson et Dalila appears again on the Met stage on the evenings of October 9, 16, with matinees on October 13 and 20; then Samson et Dalila returns in March on the evenings of March 13, 16, 19, and 28 with a matinee on March 23 with Antonenko and Rachvelishvili.  Curtain times for these performances vary; please check the Met’s season program book. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

The October 20 matinee performance of Samson et Dalila will be telecast live in HD to theaters worldwide and radio broadcast or streamed via various media. It will also be encored in some locations. Information about HD venues, operas, dates, times, casts, and tickets can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website www.metopera.org.

Note local telecast dates: the Quick Center at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT, will show the HD performance of Samson et Dalila as two encores on Tuesday, October 23, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets for these at the Quick Center may be ordered online at www.fairfield.edu/lifeatfairfield/artsminds/quickcenterforthearts or one may call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396.

The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, will also telecast Samson et Dalila as an encore on Monday, October 22 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for this performance @ Ridgefield may be ordered online at www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org or from the box office of the Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795.

Ample free parking is available at both venues; please check their websites for directions to theaters and suggestions for fine regional dining.

*Samson et Dalila holds a special place in my vast wing of Metropolitan Opera memories: it was the final performance of a special ’64-’65 season, a season significant because it was the first of the standing room performances. The cast sported the great Jon Vickers as Samson. Even back then I prepped for performances, here, appropriately, with the Vickers/Gorr/Blanc EMI recording (on LP of course), conducted by George Prêtre. In the following season, I witnessed Prêtre conducting Gounod’s Faust (in the fall) and two performances of Parsifal (in the spring), the second of which was my last stand on Broadway and 39th, then my first Tristan und Isolde with Birgit Nilsson in the new Metropolitan Opera House. These are very vivid memories.

**The Met premiered Louise with the Company in January of 1921 with Geraldine Farrar in the title role, a second production in 1930 with Lucrezia Bori, later the lovely Grace Moore and Dorothy Kirsten in the last, the 49th, on December 10, 1948. It has not be revived since. But happily the New York City Opera staged Louise with Beverly Sills in the spring of 1977. Grabbed it, enjoyed it.

Heavenly in NYC for OM’s opening night of the 2018-2019 season…even the traffic cooperated! Ciao!

J

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Metropolitan Opera’s ’18–’19 HD Season

A joy indeed it is to begin the next OperaMetro season with the posting of the Met’s 2018-2019 HD telecast schedule! To some degree the writing is a comforting endeavor, a way to fill the void created by the end of last season, like, wait, what? You mean it’s over!? But, truthfully, each of my days is full of musical moments colored by eager anticipation and glowing retrospection, the latter being decades long at this point. I kid you not…but I digress.

Below is listed the Met’s HD schedule for the 2018-2019 season. The dates and times (ET) listed herein are those of the live performances on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, the source of the telecasts. But these times and dates are not necessarily the same as those of the projected performance @ your favorite HD venue. Throughout the season OM, as you know, lists the specific times and dates at the bottom of a review of the to-be-telecast performance for the venues in our immediate neck of the woods. It’s a little help I give my friends to get by; additionally, to me it gives new meaning to my oft repeated phrase ‘support your local opera.’

  The mod  Samson et Dalila  opens the Met season, also in HD

The mod Samson et Dalila opens the Met season, also in HD

The Met’s HD season opens on October 6, 2018 at 12:55 p.m., with a revival of Verdi’s classic Aïda, starring the great Anna Netrebko, who has, of late, tackled some of the grander roles in the Italian repertory* (see Asides and Addenda below). In this by now familiar production by Sonja Frisell, with sets by Gianni Quaranta, Netrebko is joined by Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris, Alksandrs Antonenko as Radamès, Quinn Kelsey as Amonasro, and Ryan Speedo Green as the King. Nicola Luisotti conducts. A grand opening of a great HD season starring a grand diva.

A new production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila is the actual Opening Night of this coming 2018-2019 season (Monday night @ 6:00 p.m., September 24), but the opera gets its first ever showing in HD on October 20 at 12:55 p.m. Together again in a steamy French opera are Roberto Alagna as Samson and Elīna Garanča as Dalila. Sets are by Alexander Dodge, costumes by Linda J. Cho; the production is directed by Darko Tresnjak, making his Metropolitan Opera debut.** Others in the cast include Laurent Naouri as the High Priest, Elchin Azizov as the Philistine King Abimelech and Dmitry Belosselskiy as the Old Hebrew. Sir Mark Elder conducts. This should be a good time: Garanča and Alagna raised the temperature in the House with Carmen back in the winter of 2010, the HD performance of which was captured on a 2 DVD set released soon thereafter by Deutsche Grammophon.

Next is a long awaited revival of I think a very underrated opera: Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, telecast on October 27 at 12:55. On the books at least is tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the role of Dick Johnson, paired with Eva-Maria Westbroek as Minnie. Nick Bosi is Nick, Željko Lučić is Jack Rance, Michael Todd Simpson is Sonora, and Oren Gradus is Jake Wallas. The production is by Giancarlo Del Monaco, son of Mario Del Monaco, a highly respectable Dick Johnson back in the day. The sets and costumes are by Michael Scott; Marco Armiliato conducts. The role of Johnson lies well for Mr. Kaufmann these days; here’s hoping we get to hear how well it lies for him live in the House. Were it not so difficult to type with my fingers crossed, they’d be crossed until October.

Nico Muhly’s new opera Marnie gets its Met premiere on October 19, but the HD telecast occurs on November 10 at 12:55. It’s based on Winston Graham’s novel, which is also the source of Alfred Hitchcock’s film of 1964. The alluring Isabel Leonard stars as Marnie, with Christopher Maltman as Mark Rutland, her husband, Iestyn Davies as his brother Terry, Janis Kelly as Mrs. Rutland, and Denyce Graves as Marnie’s mother. Conductor Robert Spano makes his Metropolitan Opera debut. Marnie is co-produced with the English National Opera, at which the opera premiered in 2017; Muhly’s opera Two Boys was well received at the Met in the fall of 2013.

  Diana Damrau in the Met's new  La Traviata

Diana Damrau in the Met's new La Traviata

Arguably one of the most popular operas in the standard repertory, La Traviata returns to HD on December 15 at 12:55, at last given a new production to replace Willy Decker’s “ya seen it once, you’ve seen it all opera in concert (just about) with a lot of running around the stage and then there's this omnipresent large clock” production. Michael Mayer directs; the cast includes Diana Damrau as Violetta, Juan Diego Flórez returning to the Met as Alfredo, and Quinn Kelsey as Germont. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts. Christine Jones’ sets are sumptuous; costumes are designed by Susan Hilferty.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, Sir David McVicar’s new production of Francesco Cilea’s lovely Adriana Lecouvreur premieres with Anna Netrebko in the title role, Piotr Beczała as Maurizio, Anita Rachvelishvili as the Princess of Bouillon, Ambrogio Maestri as Michonnet, and Carlo Bosi as the Abbé. Charles Edwards did the Set Design; Brigitte Reiffenstuel does the Costumes; Adam Silverman is the Lighting Designer. The HD performance for Adriana Lecouvreur is January 12, 2019, at 12:55 p.m. Also an unjustly overlooked opera, for sure, but hold the phone for a minute: it is co-produced by five other opera companies here and in Europe. So maybe not so overlooked, right?***

  Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur in the new production

Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur in the new production

Following Adriana on the HD circuit is another production by Sir Richard Eyre, Bizet’s Carmen on February 2 at 12:55. Starring along with Roberto Alagna (Don José) is the beautiful Clémentine Margiane in the title role.**** Micaëla is sung by Aleksandra Kurzak and Escamillo by Alexander Vinogradov. Louis Langree conducts. Another French favorite is Gaetano Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, set in Lauent Pelly’s beloved production, his costumes too, and then sets designed by Chantal Thomas. Javier Camarena essays the role of Tonio to the Marie of Pretty Yende. Stephaine Blythe is the Marquise of Berkenfield. Maurizio Muraro is Sulpice. Enrique Mazzola conducts.

The Robert Lepage production of Wagner’s epic Die Walküre returns to the HD screen on March 30 at 12 p.m. The new cast sports American soprano Christine Goerke in her first run at the Met as Brünnhilde; Eva-Maria Westbroek repeats her role of Sieglinde; Stuart Skelton is Siegmund*****; Jamie Barton is Fricka; Greer Grimsley is Wotan, and Gunther Groissböck is Hunding; Philippe Jordan conducts. The complete Ring is performed at the Met this season, though Die Walküre is the only one to be telecast in HD; a complete Ring live @ the Met is a wonder to witness, certainly to hear in the House.

  Isabel Leonard  stars in   Poulenc’s   Dialogues des Carmélites

Isabel Leonard stars in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites

Last, but most certainly not least, is the revival of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, telecast first time in HD on May 11 at 12 p.m. Heading the large cast is Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force, along with Adrianne Pieczonka as Mme. Lidoine, Erin Morley as Constance, Karen Cargill as Mère Marie, the great Karita Mattila as the First Prioress, David Portillo as Chevalier de la Force, and Dwayne Croft as the Marquis de la Force. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts. It’s the John Dexter production, which was new in 1977, with sets by David Reppa, costumes by Jane Greenwood, and lighting by Gil Wechsler. This is a dynamite cast, believe me, and a powerful operatic experience. Something not to be missed. Carmélites will be sung in the original French. ******

Photos by Vincent Peters, save the Carmélites above, which is by Ken Howard.

For those new to the Met in HD, the telecasts are a fantastic way to explore the world of opera in a convenient in a theater near you; check the Metropolitan Opera’s website for locations! Most venues provide subscription packages.

The LIVE IN HD Member Priority pass puts the window for advanced sales as July 12 to July 17 in the USA and Canada. You probably have received this already in the mail.

See you in HD!

Oh, and my pick for operas not to be missed at the Metropolitan Opera this season: Boito's Mefistofele, Puccini's Il Trittico, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Tchaikovsky's Iolanta/Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, Verdi's Falstaff, and of course the Ring, as mentioned above. 

And now for Asides and Addenda:

*The odds are that one of the next big roles in line for Ms. Netrebko is either Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera or Leonora in La Forza del Destino. Alas, Forza! One of my all time favorite operas. First cast was Franco Corelli, Ettore Bastianini, Gabriella Tucci, Giorgio Tozzi (February, 1965) at the Old Met. Had to stand for it...

**Make that Tony Award winning director Darko Tresnjak, who is most recently known here for his direction of Broadway’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (my whole family loved that show!), but…but also, a bit of trivia here, though not really trivial for those of us who know and love these things: Tresnjak is known for his direction of the Los Angeles Opera’s 2009 production of Walter Braunfels’ Die Vögel, (The Birds), which is available on an ArtHaus Musik DVD. Lest you’re thinking ah ha! now, what a coincidence!!! Probably Die Vögel is adapted from the Arthur Hitchcock horror film The Birds!!!!!! Just like Marnie…wow!...no, not so fast, it’s Aristophanes' play by the same name. Lovely opera, Die Vögel, by the way. Bravi LA Opera!

***Some local readers will recall the series we did in the fall of 2016 entitled Italian Operas you should know better: unjustly overlooked operas by Rossini, Bellini, Verdi, Giordano, Cilea and Puccini. The series included Semiramide, I Puritani, La Forza del Destino, Andrea Chenier, Adriana Lecouvreur, and La Fanciulla del West. Save Forza and Chenier, four of the others have been performed at the Met within the past two seasons and this one to come. Bravi Metropolitan Opera! And maybe Forza soon.

**** Clémentine Margaine starred as Leonore in Donizetti’s La favorite at Caramoor in 2015 under the baton of Will Crutchfield.

***** Skelton was the stellar Tristan in the new production of Tristan und Isolde in fall of 2016, paired with Nina Stemme. Now musically speaking that was a Tristan und Isolde for the record books! Shame the production caused as many problems as it solved.

******Dialogues des Carmélites had its world premiere at La Scala in January of 1957 (in Italian with Virginia Zeani and Leyla Gencer), followed by its original French version in Paris later in June (with Denise Duval, Regine Crespin, Denise Scharley and Rita Gorr, conducted by Pierre Dervaux), subsequently recorded by EMI in 1958. Really an amazing recording, hands down. The opera premiered at the Met in English with this John Dexter production in the matinee performance on Saturday, February 5, 1977, with Maria Ewing, Shirley Verrett, Betsy Norden, Regine Crespin and Mignon Dunn, conducted by Michel Plasson.

A story for you: my dear friend Dick and I were going to the Met that same evening, 2/5/77, but he asked me to come to his house early to monitor the reel-to-reel recording he was making of the Carmelites broadcast. He had a local function of some kind to perform at that afternoon, probably a wedding, but this is tangential. It was my first exposure to Carmelites, though I knew some of Poulenc's music from the ABT. I remember being floored by the broadcast: you could literally hear the building tension in the audience, let alone on stage. The ending was heartbreaking. That night he and I attended the evening performance, Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète (new production with Renata Scotto, Marilyn Horne, James McCraken, Jerome Hines: Henry Lewis); as we entered the House, there was a pervasive emotional aura, members of the audience lingering, talking with others who had heard the broadcast. There were vibes…you remember vibes, right, man, good vibes, bad vibes. Two weeks later Dick and I later saw Carmelites (2/19). As we settled into our seats upstairs a strange odor, stinging, pervaded the air. “Tear gas, I think,” said Dick, who’d been in Viet Nam. Sure enough we had to evacuate the theater quickly and stood outside on Lincoln Center Plaza for at least an hour while the great ventilation system did its magic. The show must go on! And it did. And we discovered for ourselves what the aura was all about. Trust me, it’s a profound music-drama. Don’t miss this one.

Summer time! There is life! Enjoy! And look forward to the HD season. Plan to take a friend too. J.