There will always be listeners who find this, Saint-Saens' most famous opera, to be either kitsch, closer to Cecil De Mille than to the Biblical Book of Judges, or overly static, more oratorio than opera. But for other listeners the craft, pacing and the melodiousness of the work more than compensate. And what roles for the two lead singers! Which brings us to the attractions of this recording - conducted with no great distinction by George Pretre - the performances of Jon Vickers as Samson and Rita Gorr as Dalila, two star turns if there ever were any. Vickers, in his youthful splendor, delivers an inimitable performance, with all the heroism, passion and anguish that were uniquely his to command. The vocal prowess and, especially, the expressive depth he brings to the role make one feel for minutes at a time (and against one's better judgment) that Saint-Saens succeeded in creating true epic tragedy of the highest order. Rita Gorr, she of the prodigious voice that sometimes spun wildly off pitch, is in perfect control of her instrument - and her art - in this classic performance. Seductive, powerful, beautiful of timbre in the lower-lying passages, ringing and secure in her sometimes unwieldy upper register, she provides Vickers with a worthy adversary.
A must for fans of Saint-Saens and of great singing.