Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Classics: Among our team of operatic avengers, which does Saint-Saëns's Dalila resemble most?


Shirley Verrett sings Dalila's Act II aria "Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse" with Julius Rudel conducting in San Francisco, 1981. If the staging at the opening makes you wonder whether the stage director ever listened to the music (forget reading the libretto), we're on the same page.
Samson, seeking my presence again,
this evening is to come to this place.
Here is the hour of vengeance,
which must satisfy our gods.

Love! come aid my weakness!
Pour the poison in his breast!
Make it happen that, conquered by my artfulness,
Samson is in fetters tomorrow!
In vain would he wish to be able
to chase me out of his soul, to banish me.
Could he extinguish the flame
that memory feeds?
He is mine! my slave!
My brothers fear his wrath;
I, along among all, I defy him
and hold him at my knees!

Love! come aid my weakness!
Pour the poison in his breast!
Make it happen that, conquered by my artfulness,
Samson is in fetters tomorrow!
Against strength is useless,
and he, the strong among the strong,
he, who broke his people's chains,
will succumb to my efforts.

by Ken

Okay, here's where we are. Last week, in both the preview ("In which we hear a lady weighted by a heap of hurt") and the main post ("Meet Saint-Saëns's Dalila"), we heard the seductive side of Dalila -- and also the side, whatever you want to call it (I called it deep hurt) displayed in the great solo she sings when she's finally alone at the start of Act II. Then in Friday night's preview we heard her in "vengeance" mode, swearing along with the High Priest of Dagon, to bring Samson down -- and I also introduced several other operatic vengeance-seekers: Mozart's Queen of the Night, Beethoven's prison governor Don Pizarro, and the heroine of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

I certainly didn't mean to suggest any equivalence among our team of avengers. I wanted to lay the groundwork, because the text of Samson et Dalila doesn't give us much factual background to work with, for the best case I can make that Dalila's closest kin here is Isolde.

First we're going to hear from an actual monster, Don Pizarro in Fidelio, who has been forced into the decision to put an end to the suffering he has been inflicting on his old nemesis, Don Florestan, in a secret dungeon (where, you'll recall, we heard him languishing last month. Then, in the click-through, we'll hear from the Queen of the Night and Isolde, and finally we'll come back to Dalila.

(Note that I've juggled the lineup of recordings somewhat from the samples we heard in Friday night's preview. I wrote a bunch of long-winded explanations and exegeses, and then threw them out. We can talk about some of those issues some other time. Maybe. And note too that inclusion of a recording here doesn't necessarily constitute endorsement. There are some I'm not crazy about but have included for particular reasons.)

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio, Op. 72: Act I, Don Pizarro, "Ha! Welch ein Augenblick" ("Ha! What a moment!")
Ha! What a moment!
My vengeance I will cool;
your fate is calling you!
In its heart dwell,
oh live, good luck!
Already I was nearly in the dust,
by the loud scorn robbed,
there to be stretched.
Now it is up to me,
to commit the murder myself.
In his last hour,
the steel in his wound,
to cry in his ear:
Triumph! Victory is mine!
-- translation by Katharina Fink

Zoltán Kélémen (b), Don Pizarro; Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1970

Ekkehard Wlaschiha (b), Don Pizarro; Dresden State Opera Chorus, Staatskapelle Dresden, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded November 1989

Walter Berry (bs-b), Don Pizarro; Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Live performance, June 9 or 14, 1970

Hans Hotter (b), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Otto Klemperer, cond. Testament, recorded live, Feb. 24, 1961



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