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A triumphant close

ROBERT HUGILL reviews the current Covent Garden London production of 'Samson and Delila'


Is it really over twenty years since the Royal Opera House's production of Samson and Delila had its première, with Jon Vickers and Shirley Verrett in the title roles? Elijah Moshinsky's production, with its designs by the Australian artist, Sir Sidney Nolan, has held up well. Broadly traditional in outline (the sort that you can happily take your mother to see), it gains its strength and much of its character from Nolan's striking designs; his rich and evocative sets include a stunning series of act drops and gauzes which punctuate and almost comment upon the action.

During the overture, we can contemplate Nolan's curtain, with its lovely Rouault-esque image of the blinded Samson. Philippe Jourdan's account of the overture was shapely, displaying a quiet intensity instead of the usual bombast. This mood carried over into the opening scene where we see the chorus, the children of Israel, enslaved by the Philistines. In another visual coup, the chorus are initially glimpsed through one of Nolan's gauzes, depicting the hand of god. The chorus are almost a third protagonist in this work, as it hovers between opera and oratorio, and the Royal Opera Chorus were on fine form, giving us a rich, warm sound.

Samson was played by José Cura, who appeared in this same production in 1996, evidently its last revival. His voice is darker than it was in Il Trovatore last year, almost as if he was deliberately conjuring a sound suitable for the old testament prophet. This is a difficult role to fill, this production having originally been created for Jon Vickers who by that stage of his career was the very embodiment of an intense Old Testament prophet. Cura does a good job, though he is perhaps rather too attractively personable and this strains the opera's creaky dramaturgy.

As Abimelech, the Philistine ruler, Tigran Martirossian, displayed a lovely dark voice and managed to be impressive despite having to wear a funny hat. The High Priest of Dagon, as played by Bruno Caproni, came over as a fat and unsavoury figure. Caproni's voice is not really commanding, but he developed well as the opera progressed.

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Copyright © 16 March 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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