Samson et Dalila DALLAS
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In Review > North America

Samson et Dalila

Dallas Opera

In Review Dallas Samson lg 118
Olga Borodina, Dallas Opera’s Dalila
© Karen Almond/Dallas Opera

ON OCTOBER 28, Dallas Opera opened its season with Camille Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila. Stage director Bruno Berger-Gorski avoided the biblical tale’s potential for stasis and achieved an unexpected dynamism throughout the production; the chorus in particular played a central, varied role, from suffering Israelites to hedonistic Philistines, demonstrating their versatility under the leadership of Berger-Gorski, chorus master Alexander Rom and choreographer Nycole Ray. Peter Dean Beck’s Act I set was appropriately austere, especially during the moving “Hymne de joie, hymne de déliverance.” Two translucent screens descended on the darkened stage with Hebrew scripture projected above Clifton Forbis (Samson), the Old Hebrew (Ryan Kuster) and the chorus, all clad in prayer shawls. Four golden dancers followed mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina’s Dalila when she first entered the stage, and by the end of Act I the ensemble had ensnared Forbis in a tulle veil—a particularly creative addition by Berger-Gorski and Ray that effectively embodied Dalila’s deceitful web. 

D.O. music director Emmanuel Villaume emphasized the orchestra’s already dark tone color by foregrounding the low strings, which at times overpowered the singers. Despite Forbis’s stunning upper range, both he and Borodina seemed to have trouble projecting their middle voices during the first two acts. Borodina and Forbis’s voices opened up as the opera progressed. Throughout Act II, Borodina was vocally seductive, revealing little by little the possibilities of her voice until she exploited the full richness of her lower range and demonstrated remarkable control. Forbis sang a fabulous Act III, in which he seemed to shed his Wagnerian and Verdian predilections to allow for a truly French dramatic presence. After Forbis’s Samson endured hard labor under the weight of a gigantic grinding wheel during “Vois ma misère, hélas,” the contrasting final scene depicted a stunning gilded tableau that captured the decadence of the Philistines: dancers smeared blood from a slaughtered ram on one another’s bodies. With its sumptuous, brilliantly choreographed ballet and colorful costuming, the scene transported the audience to a hedonistic bacchanale. The extended indulgence of the orgy made Forbis’s final gesture—toppling the giant temple columns onto the celebrating crowd—all the more fantastic.

The artists in the supporting male roles—Richard Paul Fink (High Priest of Dagon), Zach Hess (First Philistine), Travis Wiley McGuire (Second Philistine) and Jay Gardner (Messenger)—gave truly standout performances. Fink’s French diction was particularly impressive. Michael Chioldi’s clear diction and strong projection left the audience wishing that Abimélech did not have to meet his demise so early in the plot.  —Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden 

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