[Met Performance] CID:283320

Metropolitan Opera Premiere, New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, February 3, 1986

Debut : Sarah Walker, Timothy O'Brien, Eleanor Fazan

Samson (1)
George Frideric Handel | Newburgh Hamilton/John Milton
Jon Vickers

Leona Mitchell

John Macurdy

Sarah Walker [Debut]

Paul Plishka

Philistine Man
Enrico Di Giuseppe

Philistine Messenger
Thomas Booth

Israelite Woman/Philistine Woman
Carol Vaness

Hei-Kyung Hong

Linda Mays

Louise Wohlafka

Julius Rudel

Elijah Moshinsky

Timothy O'Brien [Debut]

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Eleanor Fazan [Debut]

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

Samson received eight performances this season.
The production of Samson was a joint venture of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Lyric Opera of Chicago; and the Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc.

Metropolitan Opera production gift of DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, Co-founders of Reader's Digest

Review 1:

Review of Alan Rich in Newsday

One of the juiciest assignments for an operatic tenor isn't in an opera at all: it's the title role in George Frideric Handel's oratorio "Samson." Composed only weeks, after the completion of "Messiah" in 1741 and based on John Milton's epic "Samson Agonistes." Handel's 3 1/2 hour score tells, in majestic musical detail, the story of the fallen Israelite strongman. In aria after aria he bemoans his blindness and captivity, repulses attempts at reconciliation by the contrite Dalila and heroically senses the return of faith and of the strength that will enable his final act of revenge. As a concert work, "Samson" is astonishing in its emotional breadth, but the story it tells is psychological, not physical: to stage it as an opera is to diminish, rather than enhance, the power of the music. Yet "Samson" triumphed at the Metropolitan Opera last week. but only thanks to Jon Vickers in the leading role.

At 59,the Canadian tenor is a volcanic force and seldom, if ever, in better voice than now. There's no mistaking the distinctive mixture of pathos and heroism, the vibrance that makes most other tenors sound like wimps. His great roles are the rough-cut heroes. outwardly strong but undone by cruel destinies: Britten's "Peter Grimes" an astounding performance, available on video disc, Siegmund in Wagner's "Ring" and Samson in both Handel's oratorio and Saint-Saens's faded opera. The voice doesn't merely deliver, It actually embodies the drama in Handel's music, now howling invective, now muted to a pure, insistent thread of prayerful tone. His English diction, which most singers butcher is an artwork in itself: he makes the artifice of Newburgh Hamilton's libretto extremely moving.

Despite Carol Vaness's radiant singing of "Let the bright Seraphim," "Samson's" best-known air, and the eloquent conducting of Julius Rudel, the evening rides on Vickers's shoulders alone.

Review 2:

Review of Robert Jacobson in Opera News

The Met's late-winter/spring season was highlighted by the house's first staging of Handel's Samson (in collaboration with Covent Garden and Chicago Lyric), intelligently and seriously conceived by Elijah Moshinsky, who sought to give as much theatrical thrust to this static oratorio as possible, balancing the Handelian with the Miltonic, maintaining the austerity and stylization of the work. It became a dignified eighteenth-century morality play of light and dark, strength and weakness, played on wagons and movable decor pieces that kept visual variety paramount. Only occasionally did the constant movement of these parts become merely silly, as in the Samson-Harapha scene. Timothy O'Brien (debut) designed a handsome, largely black-and-white set in which the eighteenth century looks back to various visual motifs of the Israelites and Philistines, dominated by a large Wren-like central arch and two marble side pieces, adding various props when needed. With Rudel's robust, clean-lined and expert musical leadership, this was justifiably a big opera-house approach to Handel. Rudel had just the right blend of power, seriousness and felicitousness, keeping textures buoyant in his somewhat cut edition.

The principal reason for this project was the mighty presence of Jon Vickers, who inhabited another of his memorably towering, majestic portrayals. Despite some passing vocal huskiness and grit, he provided such heroic spiritual force and vocal steel that he swept all before him, climaxing in a searing, agonizing "Total eclipse!" Leona Mitchell made a vocally opulent Dalila but looked as if she were awaiting her next production of Il Trovatore. Carol Vaness' dusky middle and radiant top made her Philistine and Israelite Women a joy, but debuting Sarah Walker brought too much vocal heaviness to Micah. John Macurdy lent the right weight but few words for Manoah and Plishka his distinct timbre for Harapha, but Enrico Di Giuseppe was out of his element as the Philistine Man. The chorus covered itself with glory.

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