Most people, regardless of faith, seem familiar with the tale of Samson and Delilah: the tragic hero seduced by a woman hired to discover the secrets to his strength in order to make him fall.
This March, the New Orleans Opera Association breathes life into the story, composed by Frenchman Camille Saint-Saëns in partnership with librettist Ferdinand Lemaire. Based on the Biblical tale found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges (Old Testament), Samson and Delilah is the only Saint-Saëns opera performed regularly.
The show is a grand opera, performed in three acts, four scenes:
Act I opens in Palestine, 1150 B.C. Faithful leader Samson demonstrates his courage for a group of Hebrews praying for freedom from the Philistines. Observing Samson's unusually impressive faith, the High Priest of Dagon curses him and the Hebrews. Dagon plots to use the beauty of Delilah to defeat Samson's elaborate sense of strength through seduction. Armed with prophetic warnings against her, Samson prays for God's guidance is resisting Delilah's charms.
Delilah leads Act II with a song of victory. She knows her sensual magic has worked on Samson, and delights his following her rather than leading a revolution against the Philistines. It is revealed that she cares not for the riches promised by the High Priest in exchange for Samson. Instead, she is driven by revenge, hatred toward Hebrews, and a desire to hurt Samson. She's determined to discover Samson's secret, and moves to convince him to reveal it as an act of trust in his love for her.
Though Samson resists several times, he eventually reveals that his long hair is the secret. Delilah summons the Philistine soldiers, who abruptly arrive and capture Samson. By the start of Act III, Samson's hair has been shaved, and he's blind and shackled. He prays for those suffering as a result of his sinful actions, and offers his life in sacrifice.
The scene changes to Dagon in his temple. The Philistines prepare to celebrate their victory over Samson. Samson is led toward Dagon by a boy and instructed to kneel before the High Priest. Instead, he asks the boy to lead him toward to a pair of pillars—the main support for the Philistine temple. Once there, Samson prays for restoration of his strength. He pulls the pillars down, crushing both himself and his enemies.
Directed by Robert Lyall, Samson and Delilah will be sung in French, with English surtitles. Two performances are scheduled for Friday, 15 March (8pm) and Sunday, 17 March (2:30pm). Tickets are on sale now through neworleansopera.org for as low as $25.
An hour prior to curtain, George Dansker—Reference Librarian at New Orleans Public Library—will deliver a Nuts & Bolts lecture on the Opera with all the expertise you need to know about Samson and Delilah.
Production sponsorship comes from Peoples Health.