Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Classics: Introducing Saint-Saëns' Samson, the second-angriest man in opera


Tenor José Cura as Samson in Karlsruhe, 2010. We're going to hear him later (perhaps not all that happily). For now, let's recall from Friday night's preview how Saint-Saëns' opera begins.
CHORUS OF HEBREWS [behind the curtain]: God!
God of Israel! Hear the prayer
of your children, imploring you on our knees;
take pity on your people and our misery!
Let our sorrow disarm your wrath!

Bavarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded February 1989

by Ken

In Friday night's preview we started poking at Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila, specifically the opening scene. We heard the very opening of the opera and then jumped a bit to the exhortation from Samson which finally gets through to his ceaselessly whining oppressed fellow Hebrews. I noted then that we were skipping over important material but provided assurance that we would fill the gap today. Well, sort of. We're going to plug the single most important piece of that gap: Samson's first exhortation to his fellow Hebrews.

We've already met the Angriest Man in Opera, Rossini's William Tell (in an October 2009 series of posts culminating in "So why is this fellow William Tell so angry anyways?"), whose zero tolerance level for the oppressive Austrian occupation of Switzerland poisons any pleasure he might derive from his undeniably pleasant physical surroundings and his lovely family. This week we're encountering the runner-up. Here's the opening of Act I, the dawn of a beautiful day on a Swiss riverbank.

ROSSINI: William Tell: Act I, Opening chorus and quartet
CHORUS: What a serene day the sky portends!
Let us celebrate in our concerts;
let the echoes from this riverbank
raise our songs into the air!
By our labors we render homage
to the creator of the universe.
What a serene day, etc.

FISHERMAN: Step into my little boat,
o maiden shy,
pray come, and bring contentment
to my tender heart.
I leave the riverbank,
Lisbeth, or rather on the way;
Ah, come, the sky without cloud
promises us a beautiful day.
WILLIAM TELL: He sings in his giddiness
of his pleasures, of his mistress;
by the trouble that oppresses me
he isn't tormented.
What a joke is life!
For us no more fatherland!
He sings, and Switzerland
weeps, weeps for its freedom.
JEMMY and HEDWIGE TELL: His imprudent courage
cries out for a shipwreck
and defying the storm
he thinks only of the return.

Charles Burles (t), Fisherman; Gabriel Bacquier (b), William Tell; Mady Mespé (s), Jemmy Tell; Jocelyne Taillon (ms), Hedwige Tell; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Lamberto Gardelli, cond. EMI, recorded July-Sept. 1972

Samson is burning inside as feverishly as Tell, but he faces a very different situation. Tell's placid Swiss countrymen are able to ignore the Austrian oppression because, well, life is good, comfort-wise. Samson's fellow Hebrews are only too aware of their misery, and bemoan it endlessly, but seem unable to do anything about it. Which is the point where he steps forward, as we'll hear in the click-through.



Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home