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Camille Saint-Saens

Samson and Delilah

Camille Saint Saens - Samson et Dalila

Samson and Delilah (French: Samson et Dalila), Op. 47, is a grand opera in three acts and four scenes by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) to a French libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire. It was first performed in Weimar at the Grossherzogliches (Grand Ducal) Theater (now the Staatskapelle Weimar) on 2 December 1877 in a German translation.

The opera is based on the Biblical tale of Samson and Delilah found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. It is the only opera by Saint-Saëns that is regularly performed. The second act love scene in Delilah's tent is one of the set pieces that define French opera. Two of Delilah's arias are particularly well known: "Printemps qui commence" (“Spring begins”) and "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" ("My heart opens itself to your voice", also known as "Softly awakes my heart"), the latter of which is one of the most popular recital pieces in the mezzo-soprano/contralto repertoire.

Ask any music-lover to name offhand the subject that has inspired the largest number of operas, and he will probably nominate either Faust or Orpheus, or just possibly Romeo. Nor were all these by forgotten composers. One of them, for example, was by Rameau, whose librettist was no less a figure than Voltaire, and another was by the German Joachim Raff. Oddly enough, though each of these composers was not only ahighly respected musician in his day but also a powerful figure, neither of their Samson operas was ever produced.

Saint-Saens also had some troubles before he ever got to see a full performance of his work, and even more before he could hear it in his own country. His cousin, Ferdinand Lemaire, delivered the libretto in 1869, and the score was well along when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. This interrupted the completion for two years, after which the score lay idle on the composer’s desk for another two. Finally, Liszt heard of the work. Ever enthusiastic about helping younger men, the Abb6 took the score and gave it its world premiere in German at Weimar. Simson und Delila, it was called. That was in 1877; but it took the natural home for this work, the Paris Opera, another thirteen years to see its merits. There it has been a staple ever since, being played at least once or twice a month year in year out.

In English-speaking countries it was also slow to make its way. In England there used to be a law (and in America a prejudice) against representing biblical characters on the stage. It was first heard in these countries, therefore, in the form of an oratorio. In England it never received an operatic production till 1909; while in the U.S., despite a few scattered performances in the nineties, it did not enter the regular repertoire of the Metropolitan till 1915. Then, with a cast headed by Caruso and Matzenauer, it made such an impression that it has been a semi-regular in the repertoire for many years. Nowadays, however, there is this interesting difference in standards of production: audiences insist on—and get—a Delilah who can look as well as sing like a dangerous woman.

In 1947, when Saint-Saens’s opera was temporarily out of the repertoire, the Metropolitan produced a one-act version of the story by Bernard Rogers, entitled The Warrior. In this opera Samson’s eyes are put out very realistically, with a red-hot poker, right on the stage. The management had the happy thought of producing this little horror on a Saturday afternoon bill for moppets, with H'dnsel und Gretel as the lure. Naturally, poor Mr. Rogers’ work failed to win the parents’ approval, and Saint-Saens was subsequently restored.




(Samson and Delilah)

Opera in three acts by Camille Saint-Saens
with libretto in French by Ferdinand Lemaire,
based on the Book of Judges

Delilah, a priestess of Dagon
Samson, leader of the Hebrews

High Priest of Dagon

Abimelech, Satrap of Gaza

An Old Hebrew

Time: biblical
Place: Gaza

First performance [in German) at Weimar, December 2, 1877



Mezzo-soprano. Philistine who, rejected by the Hebrew Samson, determines revenge. Woos him and cuts off his hair, the secret of his enormous strength. Aria: Mon cœur s'ouvre á ta voix (‘My heart opens to your voice’—more often translated as ‘Softly awakes my heart’). Among famous singers of this role are Ebe Stignani, Fedora Barbieri, Giulietta Simionato, Shirley Verrett, Agnes Baltsa, and Olga Borodina. Created ( 1877 ) by Auguste von Müller.

Saint-Saëns - Samson and Delilah
Elina Garanca 

Delilah (c. 1896) by Gustave Moreau


Tenor. Leader of the Hebrews against the Philistines. The Philistine Dalila, mortified by Samson's earlier rejection of her, uses her charm to make Samson admit that he really does love her. She then cuts off his hair, the secret of his enormous strength, and betrays him to her own people, who capture and blind him. God restores his strength, and Samson destroys the Philistine temple, killing his aggressors and himself. Among notable singers of this role in the past 50 years are Mario del Monaco, Jon Vickers, James King, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras.Created (1877) by Franz Ferenczy.

Saint-Saëns - Samson and Delilah
Josep Carreras: "Vois ma misère, hélas!" 

Samson's Fight with the Lion (1525) by Lucas Cranach the Elder

High Priest of Dagon:

Baritone. High Priest of the Philistines. Orders Dalila to find out the secret of Samson's enormous strength. Created (1877) by Mons. Milde.

Bass. Satrap of Gaza. He taunts the subjugated Hebrews for praying to their God who is not helping them in their distress. Their leader, Samson, slays him. Created ( 1877 ) by Herr Dengler.


Camille Saint-Saëns - Samson et Dalila - PART 1 Act 1: Choir philistins
Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 21&27 de Marzo de 2001.

Samson.  -  José Carreras.
Dalila. -  Markella Hatziano.
Le Grand-Prêtre de Dagon. -  Simon Estes.
Abimelech.  -  Simon Orfila.
Un Vielliard Hébreu.  -  Stefano Palatchi.
Un messager philistin.   -  Francisco Vas.
Premier philistin.   -  Josep Fadó.
Deuxième philistin.   -  Mariano Viñuales.

Director de escena.   -  Elijah Moshinsky.
Director del coro.   -  William Spaulding.
Director de orquesta.   -  Stefano Ranzani.
Coro y Orquesta del Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona.

 PART 2 PART 2 - Act 1: Choir - Samson

 PART 3 PART 3 - Act 1: Le Grand Prêtre

 PART 4 PART 4 - Act 1: Vieillard Hébreu

PART 5 - Act 1: Dalila & Samson

 PART 6 Act 1: Dalila "printemps qui commence"

 PART 7 Act 2: Prelude & Dalila

 PART 8 Act 2 : Dalila & Grand Prêtre

 PART 9 Act 2: Dalila & G.P & Samson

 PART 10 Act 2: Dalila & Samson

 PART 11 Act 2: Mon coeur s'ouvre (Dalila)

 PART 12 Act 2 final: (Samson & Dalila

 PART 13 Act 3: Vois ma misère (Samson)

 PART 14 Act 3: Choeur des Hébreux

 PART 15 Act 3: Bacchanale

 PART 16 Act 3: Grand Prêtre & Samson




At Gaza the Israelites are in bondage to the Philistines, and even before the curtain rises, they are heard bewailing their misfortunes. On a square in the city, early in the morning, they are gathered, and Samson tries to arouse them to active resistance. They are slow to take fire, but are finally roused to such enthusiasm that Abimelech, Satrap of Gaza, comes with his bodyguard to see what the matter is. His taunts and his invitation to abandon Jehovah in favor of Dagon boomerangs.

Samson rouses the Israelites to still stronger feelings of revolt with his vigorous call to revolution (Israel, burst your bonds);

whereupon Abimelech attacks him; Samson wrenches away the Satrap's sword and slays him; and the whole band scatters into the city to make good the rebellion.

The doors of the temple open, and out comes the High Priest with his attendants. In solemn tones he curses Samson. Yet he cannot bring courage that way to the terror-struck Philistines; and when the Israelites return, High Priest and all make good their escape.

It is Samson’s great hour of triumph. Yet, in that very moment, the seductive priestess Delilah issues forth from the Temple of Dagon with her almost equally seductive young ladies' chorus of attendants. They greet the triumphant hero, bringing him garlands, singing a song of spring and dancing enticingly. Delilah tells him that he already reigns in her heart, and, taking the cue from her maidens, also sings a ravishing aria about the spring ( Printemps qui commence -  “The spring is beginning”). One of the old Hebrews warns Samson; but the young hero, who already has a reputation for being quickly attracted by feminine beauty, is utterly fascinated by Delilah.

Peter Paul Rubens' Samson and Delilah (c. 1609)


It is going to be a dark and stormy night in the vale of Sorek, but the short prelude to Act II establishes the fact, as well as music can, that the late afternoon is fine. Delilah, clad as seductively as the decencies of grand opera permit, is waiting, in her luxuriant Oriental garden, for her lover. She hates him as an enemy of her people, and in a powerful aria (Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!) she prays that the god of love may help her to render him powerless.

The High Priest comes to her to tell her that things have gone from bad to worse, for the Hebrews, once slaves, are now terrorizing their former masters. Knowing something of the psychology of beautiful women, he reports that Samson has been boasting of her lack of success in dominating him. But Delilah hates the man enough already without such spurring; and later on, when he offers her a rich reward if she can wring from him the secret of his strength, she tells him that bribery is not necessary. She has already tried three times; three times she has failed; but this time she swears that she will succeed. Samson, she believes, has become a slave to sexual passion; and the two sing a duet of triumph over the anticipated victory.

Now a storm starts brewing. The High Priest leaves, and Delilah awaits Samson impatiently. When he finally stumbles in through the growing darkness, he mutters to himself that he has come only to break off with Delilah. He had not reckoned with her determination or her woman's wiles, which include not only love-making but also sentimental references to past pleasures, anger, and tears. As she sees him beginning to weaken, she sings the famous aria Mon coeur s’ouvre d ta voix (usually translated “My heart at thy sweet voice”). Heard as a concert aria it is far less effective than in the opera, for Samson's passionate avowal of love at the end of each stanza is tamdy given over to the mezzo.

Once again Delilah asks for the secret of his great strength, and once again Samson refuses to reveal it. But when Delilah finally repels him, calls him coward ("Lache!"), and rushes off into the house, Samson is distraught. With the storm raging about him, he raises his hands in despair and slowly follows her inside.

Everyone knows, from the Bible story, what happens inside to Samson and to his hair. On-stage, there is a clap of thunder; then a troop of Philistine soldiers sneaks in and silently surrounds the house. Suddenly Delilah appears at the window and calls for help. Samson’s voice is heard shouting that he has been betrayed, and the soldiers rush in to take him captive.

Anthony van Dyck, Samson and Delilah, c. 1618-20


Scene 1

Bereft of their powerful leader, the Hebrews have been conquered, and a chorus of them, in an off-stage prison, complains bitterly that Samson has betrayed the god of his fathers. On-stage, the blinded Samson is turning the millstone to which his captors have chained him in the prison yard. In an agony of despair he calls upon Jehovah to take his life so that he may atone for his people’s misery. Relentlessly the off-stage chorus continues its denunciation of him. Finally, his jailers lead him away.

Scene 2

In the Temple of Dagon the Philistines are working themselves up into an orgy of worship before a huge statue of their god. The dancing girls sing the victory chorus they had offered, in Act I, to Samson. The ballet performs the Bacchande.

When Samson is led in by a little child, they turn on him in mockery. Delilah takes especial delight in triumphing over him; and the High Priest, with exquisite taste, offers to turn Jew if Jehovah will be so good as to restore Samson’s sight. Samson, turning his sightless eyes upward, prays that the Lord of Hosts may avenge such monstrous impiety.

But now the serious part of the sacrificial ceremony begins. Libations are poured before the statue; the altar begins to flame; and as a climax, Samson is to be made to kneel to Dagon. Amid the triumphant singing of the Philistines, the child leads Samson between the two great pillars where he is to make obeisance. Quietly the huge man tells the boy to leave the temple, as the invocation to Dagon rises louder and louder. Finally, Samson grips the two pillars, prays aloud for a last show of strength, and with a shout starts the pillars swaying. The Philistine mob screams in terror and tries to rush from the hall. It is too late: the whole temple crashes down destroying everyone in it, including Samson and Delilah.

 Samson And Delilah by Lucas Cranach the Younger



Samson (/ˈsæmsən/; שִׁמְשׁוֹן‬, Shimshon, "man of the sun") was the last of the judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible (chapters 13 to 16) and one of the last of the leaders who "judged" Israel before the institution of the monarchy. He is sometimes considered to be an Israelite version of the popular Near Eastern folk hero also embodied by the Sumerian Enkidu and the Greek Heracles.

The biblical account states that Samson was a Nazirite, and that he was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including slaying a lion with his bare hands and massacring an entire army of Philistines using only the jawbone of a donkey. However, if Samson's long hair was cut, then his Nazirite vow would be violated and he would lose his strength.

Samson was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies, who gouged out his eyes and forced him to grind grain in a mill at Gaza. When the Philistines took Samson into their temple of Dagon, Samson asked to rest against one of the support pillars; after being granted permission, he prayed to God and miraculously recovered his strength, allowing him to grasp hold of the columns and tear them down, killing himself and all the Philistines with him. In some Jewish traditions, Samson is believed to have been buried in Tel Tzora in Israel overlooking the Sorek valley.

Samson Slaying the Lion (1628) by Peter Paul Rubens

The Blinding of Samson by Rembrandt

The Blinded Samson (1912) by Lovis Corinth


Delilah (/dɪˈlaɪlə/; Hebrew: דלילה‎ Dəlilah, Dəlila, Tiberian Hebrew Dəlilah; Arabic Dalilah meaning "faithless one") is a woman mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible. She is loved by Samson, a Nazirite who possesses great strength and serves as the final Judge of Israel. Delilah is bribed by the lords of the Philistines to discover the source of his strength. After three failed attempts at doing so, she finally goads Samson into telling her that his vigor is derived from his hair. As he sleeps, Delilah orders a servant to cut Samson's hair, thereby enabling her to turn him over to the Philistines.

Delilah has been the subject of both rabbinic and Christian commentary; rabbinic literature identifies her with Micah's mother in the biblical narrative of Micah's Idol, while some Christians have compared her to Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus. Scholars have noted similarities between Delilah and other women in the Bible, such as Jael and Judith, and have discussed the question of whether or not the story of Samson's relationship with Delilah displays a negative attitude towards foreigners. Her name has become associated with treacherous and voluptuous women.

Samson And Delilah by Hendrick van Somer

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