In three Acts by FERDINAND LEMAIRE.
With Music by CAMILLE SAINT-SAENS.
German translation by RICHARD POHL.
The first performance of this opera in Dresden on November 13th 1900
proved a great success.
This opera which was written almost thirty years ago did not meet with
a favourable reception either in France or in any other country. In
the year 1877 it was however given in Weimar through Liszt's influence,
but fell flat.
At last it was performed in Rouen in 1890, and in November 1892 the
Grand Opera in Paris followed suit. Since that time it has been one of
the standard operas in Paris.
Its performance in Dresden has shown, that it well deserves its place.--
The vivid contrast between the simple yet stirring choruses of the
Israelites and the pompous and warlike ones of the Philistines, the
exquisite love-song of Samson and Delila, and last but not least the
charming ballet-music, with its truly Eastern character entitle the
opera to rank amongst the very best of the past century.--
The libretto is a biblical one; the scene is laid in Gaza, in
Palestine, 1150 years before Christ.
In the first Act the Israelites, groaning under the yoke of the
Philistines, pray to God for deliverance. They are derided and
insulted by Abi Melech, satrap of Gaza but Samson, unable longer
to endure the blasphemy hurled by the Heathen against the God of
Israel, rises up in mighty wrath, and so inspires his brethren that
they suddenly take up arms, and precipitating themselves on their
unsuspecting oppressors, first slay Abi Melech and then rout the whole
army of the Philistines.
The high-priest of the heathen god Dagon finding his friend slain, vows
to be avenged upon the Israelites, but he is deserted by all his
companions who flee before Samson's wrath.
In the next scene the Israelites return victorious and are greeted with
triumphant songs and offerings of flowers. Even the Philistine Delila,
the rose of Sharon receives them with her maidens, and pays homage to
the hero Samson.
Delila had enthralled him once before, and again her beauty causes him
very nearly to forget his people and his duty; but an aged Israelite
implores him not to listen any more to the arts and wiles of the
In the second Act Delila has an interview with the high-priest, whom
she promises to avenge her people by winning Samson's love once more.
She proudly refuses the reward which the high-priest offers her, for it
is her bitter hatred against the hero, who once loved and then forsook
her, which prompts her to ruin him and to force from him by every means
in her power the secret of his strength.
When the high-priest has left her, Samson comes down the steep
mountain path, drawn to Delila's house against his will. She receives
him with the greatest tenderness, and once more her beauty and her
tears assert their power over him, so that he sinks at her feet and
falters out his love for her. But in vain she tries to lure his secret
from him. At last she leaves with words of contempt and scorn and
enters the house. This proves his undoing. Goaded beyond earthly
power he rushes after her and seals his fate. After a while the
Philistines surround the house and Delila herself delivers her
unfortunate lover, whom she has deprived of his strength by cutting off
his locks, into the hands of his foes.--
In the third Act we find Samson in prison. Bereft of his eye-sight he
has to turn the heavy mill. From the outside the wailings and
reproaches of his Israelite brethren are heard, who have again been
subjugated by their foes. Bitterly repentant Samson implores God to
take his life as the price of his people's deliverance.
In the last scene he is led away to Dagon's temple there to be present
at the festival of the Philistines, celebrated with great pomp in
honour of their victory.
On the conclusion, after an exquisite ballet, Delila presents a golden
cup to the blind hero, and insults and jeers at him for having been
fool enough to believe in her love for him, the enemy of her country.
Samson maintains silence, but when they order him to sacrifice at
Dagon's shrine, he whispers to the child, who is guiding him, to lead
him to the pillars of the temple.
This being done he loudly invokes the God of Israel, and seizing the
pillars tears them down with mighty crash, burying the Philistines
under the ruins of the temple.