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Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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  • Performer: Plácido Domingo, Waltraud Meier, Alain Fondary, Jean-Philippe Courtis
  • Orchestra: Paris Opéra-Bastille Chorus, Paris Opéra-Bastille Orchestra
  • Conductor: Myung-Whun Chung
  • Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
  • Audio CD (30 Nov. 1992)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: EMI
  • ASIN: B000002RSS
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 227,980 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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By KaleHawkwood TOP 100 REVIEWER on 12 May 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Recordings of this exotic, erotic opera by the sometimes underrated Saint-Saens are hardly thick on the ground, but this one from 1991 is close to ideal.
The biblical, highly-charged subject suited the composer, and much of the music is sensuous and emotive. Wisely, the cast consists of only eight, including three Philistines, and it`s some time before Dalila makes her entrance, Samson holding the stage first of all.
Domingo is fine as the long-haired one, but it is the wonderful Waltraud Meier who impresses as much if not more as the notorious temptress (her Isolde for Barenboim is a thing of beauty too). It`s worth getting hold of this set if only to hear her singing at the end of Act Two of these words, spat out at Samson:

Lache! coeur sans amour,
Je te meprise.
Adieu!

(`Coward! Loveless heart, I despise you. Farewell!`)
On the word "meprise" her voice drops almost an octave and the listener`s blood is chilled even as the ears are thrilled.
Meier is naturally a mezzo who strays into the soprano repertoire, but here the ripe richness of her mezzo voice comes into its own.
In the other roles, Alain Fondary, Jean-Philippe Courtis, and Samule Ramey as the Old Hebrew, are all excellent. Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Orchestra and Choir - both vital in this opera - of L`Opera-Bastille with intelligence and flair.
My original, unremastered copy (with the two leads pictured in profile, and in full facial get-up, on the cover) requires the volume to be turned up quite a way to gain the full effect, but otherwise this is a tremendous recording of a very fine opera, with orchestra in the final crashing down of the temple about everyone`s ears giving the listener a heart-stopping, cathartic, overwhelming and percussive aural experience.
Recommended.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This work is more like an oratorio than an opera. Whung Chung directs a very sensual and at the same time delicate interpretation with rhythic vitality and rigour. The sollists are magnificent and the choral singing is superb. Saint Saens' masterpiece has not been better recorded. This is the definitive version.Saint-Saëns: The Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Samson ever. 5 Jan. 2000
By Gerardo Cabrera Munoz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Samson & Delila has not been that lucky on records. The classic Vickers/Gorr recording is marred by Georges Prete's boring conducting and by a restricted sound recording. Not much can be said of later sets: Baremboim has a Boris Godunov instead of a Delila in Elena Obraztsova (a classic DG mistake of vocal casting); Christa Ludwig and James King are not very exciting in Giuseppe Patane's 1973 recording, and Carreras and Baltsa won't burn the house down either. But as so often in French opera, EMI had a great cast, a great conductor and they recorded the opera. From the very beginning, the orchestra alerts you that this is not going to be an oratorio-like reading. Myung Whun-Chung unfolds the drama with lethal imagination, and lets you hear wonderful things in this great score. By quite a distance, this is the best conducted Samson in the catalogue. Domingo in very good voice, is a noble hero, but it is the devastatingly erotic Delila of Waltraud Meier who steals the show. What a terrific performance! Sung in perfect French and in a velvet voice, no other mezzo who has recorded the role, even comes close. EMI sound picture is admirable, the more I hear this recording, the more I like it!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Placido Domingo And Waltraud Meier Sizzle 29 Nov. 2005
By Rudy Avila - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This 90's EMI recording of Saint-Saens' most famous operatic work Samson et Dalila, still a popular opera in most companies, stars Placido Domingo and mezzo soprano Waltraud Meir. They are both mature, lyrically resplendent singers who not only sing beautifully and with gusto, but live their characters as well. Certainly, Domingo knew how to live each of his roles. Singing in his later years, his voice is dark, masculine, still lyrically strong and his high register is still above the staff and above the orchestra. His French diction is superb. As Samson, he seems to take on a Wagnerian hero approach. Samson, a Hebrew Old Testament version of Hercules, is a man whose heart is in the right place and attempts to save his people from the wicked pagan Phillistines. His one weakness: the beautiful and seductive Dalila. The true measure of a great Samson et Dalila lies in the vocal prowess of the lead tenor and mezzo, not to mention a good conducting of the score. While Chung may not be an especially striking conductor, this recording is blessed with the talents of Domingo and Meier. Meier is acclaimed for her Wagner (Isolde, Bragaine) and her Mozart repertoire (Despina, Elvira, Cherubino) her voice is strong in the middle register and velvety in the higher register. She is an appropriately seductive and sensual Dalilah, though I would also have enjoyed Grace Bumbry or Shirley Verrett, if both these singers could have for once been pulled out of retirement to sing opposite Placido's excellent Samson. This is a fine recording with great moments. Even the wonderful Samuel Ramey sings a particularly brilliant High Priest. I recommend you listen to the following highlights- the opening chorus, Samson's arias (all of them) and Dalilah's "Samson, Recharce Ma Presence", an unbeatable rendition on this recording.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary recording! 24 Dec. 1999
By J. Luis Juarez Echenique - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Excellent as Domingo's Samson is, it is Waltraud Meier and Myung Whun-Chung who steal the show. The gorgeous German mezzo sings a ravishing Delilah, as fatale as femme fatales get, besides her French is virtually perfect. Myung Whun-Chung conducts a very exciting, very theatrical Samson. No other recording even comes close.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Premiere Samson Recording 11 Mar. 2006
A Kid's Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Plácido Domingo [Samson] ** Waltraud Meier [Dalila] ** Alain Fondary [High Priest of Dagon] ** Jean-Philippe Courtis [Abimelech] ** Samuel Ramey [An Old Hebrew] ** Christian Papis [A Messenger] ** Daniel Galvez Vallejo [First Philistine] ** François Harismendy [Second Phillistine]* Orchestra De L'Opera Bastille,* Myung-Whung Chung conductor

This early 90's EMI recording of Samson Et Dalila, one of the few French "grand operas" of 19th century Paris Opera to remain popular to this day, is possibly the greatest studio recording you are likely to find, thanks to the talents of the principal singers, its conductor and orchestra. In the course of two hours that go by rather quickly, a powerful Biblical drama is recounted and it sure packs a powerful punch, particularly in the climatic finale in which Samson, betrayed by Dalila, is blinded and chained to a wall which he later tears down with his own hands over the partying pagan Phillistines. The other recordings on the market have their individual flaws- James King sang Samson opposite Christa Ludwig in what was then the first studio recording of the work but neither voices are suited to this kind of opera since both King and Ludwig have primarily dramatic Wagnerian voices and their French is faulty. Agnes Baltsa and Jose Carreras sing with accurate diction and spin out beautiful lyric phrases but they don't sizzle or make a powerful impression. This is Domingo's second recorded Samson, the first was with Elena Obrazstova, whose Russian/Slavic, "Italian" trained overly dramatic interpretation doesn't make for a good Dalila despite her efforts, eventhough Domingo in younger voice is heroic and powerful.

Here, however, he is mannered and more in control, has a darker, edgier voice and is still as powerful as his earlier performance. Domingo lived all his role and Samson was no exception. He appears in a filmed production at the San Francisco Opera opposite a formidable Dalila- Shirley Verrett. Domingo's years of experience make this late recording a satisfying account in many levels. Fist, he has a command for the French diction, and this I say even in the faces of those critic's comments which state he never understood the French lyric repertoire as he did the Italian. He IS a superb French tenor, his Spanish blood does not detract from a powerful performance one bit. I urge his detractors to listen with unbiased ears to Domingo's accounts of Gounod's Romeo Et Juliette, Carmen, Faust, L'Africaine, Manon, Herodiade and Le Cid. He had a number of French operas under his belt by the time of this recording and he proves his tenor voice transcends all languages in opera. Furthermore, he lives the role. He is convincing as a Hebrew Hercules, masculine, spiritual, heroic but weak when it comes to women- women like the number one Biblical temptress Dalila. His duet with Waltraud Meier after the "Mon Couer" is very moving and this slow passionate moment is a relaxing one pitched against the intensity of the drama. Domingo steps up his dramatic singing in the final scenes. Ashamed, defeated (and this you can tell from his singing voice) he is chained to a pillar and made fun of by the cruel Philistines. His voice picks up energy and heft when he finally gets the strength to destroy his foes, to his own death. Domingo is without a doubt the best looking Samson and the best singing Samson. Perhaps, if Jon Vickers sang the role, he did so in a more dramatic Wagnerian manner which is also very appropriate but I have no idea if Vickers sang or even recorded the role. Until I find out, Domingo is the best Samson for me.

Waltraud Meier, a German soprano who garnered fame in the 80's as a primarily lyric soprano, steps up her own level of singing as Dalila, the perfect foil to Samson. Meier has a pretty voice, there is no doubt about that, even for a mezzo-soprano (traditionally the "uglier" voice next to the soprano voice; and whose roles include witches, bitches, old matrons or femme fatales). Meier's early repertoire included Mozart (Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte, Dona Elvira in Don Giovanni) but later she added Wagner to her resume - Venus in Tannhauser and even the role of Isolde. She acquired a more dramatic voice so that by the time of this recording, she was more in control and in mature voice. Consequently, her Dalila is the best on record. She lives her role, too, and has genuine chemistry with Domingo. Her account of the first part, in which her job is just to seduce Samson, she handles well. Her "Recharce Ma Presence" and "Mon Couer" are terrific and not overblown. But it at the last part of the opera where she truly shines. She is cruel, haughty and even imperious. It was probably to her advantage that Saint-Saens wrote the music to the opera to sound a tad like Wagner opera. Every music scholar knows that. While not overtly Wagnerian, this opera has moments of dissonance contrasted with pure beauty, dramatic outbursts and severe fatalism, the one thing Wagner was known for. Bizet's Carmen used the same kind of music. Therefore, in that one moment when Samson and Dalila argue after Dalila has declared her betrayal (Samson has told her the secret of his strength lies in his hair and she cuts it) that scene is sung and orchestrated as if it were the same argument scene in Carmen between Don Jose and Carmen. It may be the Bastille Opera orchestra or Chung's conducting but the opening scene of the opera- the Hebrew Chorus- prompted a friend of mine who works at a music store to claim that the music to that is greater than anything Wagner ever wrote. A pretty big claim but surely he was right on the money regarding the grandeur and virtuosity of this particular account on this recording.

The Chinest conductor Chung truly worked miracles with the music here, providing color and character, exoticism and tension. The Bacchanale is a beautiful account and the finale is riveting and even heartbreaking. Chung also conducted a superb score to Verdi's Otello in the last recorded Otello by Domingo which he sung opposite Cheryl Studer's Desdemona. That recording is largely considered the best and Domingo's best. Chung had a special rapport with Domingo and we get the same kind of magic and power in this recording. It does feel like it is rushed but it is not detrimental to the dramatic stregth of the recording.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meier & Domingo sizzle! 29 Feb. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is one of the best opera CDs ever. Plain and simple. You get the legendary Placido Domingo as Samson and the ravishingly seductive Waltraud Meier as Dalila. If you've never heard her before (or even if you have), this is your chance to hear the most erotic and sensual Dalila that you'll ever hear. Her French is unbelievably beautiful - - a very good language for her. And her tone is absolutely perfect as she finds emotions that other singers fail to express. The intelligence and fire of this performance make it well worth your investment.
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