Sunday, July 10, 2011

Samson et Dalila on DVD

This is a DVD to buy and to cherish. One of the best DVD's I've seen in a long time!

This work is much more intelligent than I expected it to be. The Flanders Opera folks definitely know how to make the French repertoire dramatically appealing. They confide the weak librettos to inventive directors who actually capitalize on the weaknesses to make their talents more apparent

Who are the authors (directors) of this fantastic show? Amir Nizar Zuabi a celebrated Palestinian writer and theater director, and Omri Nitzan a famous Israeli theater and opera producer. Oh don't worry, it does not get  white dove cheesy! Quite the opposite actually, as it turns out.

The two make a fascinating job by transposing the biblical story to Gaza today. In that "historical mirror", they exchanged the roles of Philistines and Hebrews, and so the opera actually begins with a prayer of Palestinians in occupied Gaza. The long lasting desire of occupied people to be free culminates with a rebellion in which Samson kills Abimélech, and Israeli lose control over the angry mob.

At some point I was surprised that Nitzan had let it go down that road, but it was more clever... Irresistible Dalila tricked Samson to come to her room where she'd hidden a body of a killed child. When Samson discovered a body, the Israeli soldiers were already there to arrested him, charging him for killing that child. [That's scenically non-trivially made and allows for at least one more interpretation.]

The famous Bacchanale dance is here replaced by the soldiers breaking to a party of rich people. They perform their dance with guns and full of testosterone [that was a spot on observation: carrying a gun is always a testosterone booster] that will bring them to a state in which they try to outdo one another in humiliating the prisoner Samson, before eventually letting him go. And there the twist happens. During his last prayer Samson is putting on a suicide-bomber jacket (full of dynamite) and is ready to push the button...  That closes a vicious circle: the occupation is supposed to fight against terrorism which in fact generates it; or the terrorism is both the reason for and consequence of the occupation. That was a true focus of this somewhat pessimistic (realistic?!) transposition of the biblical story. It blows up in your face!

This is so wonderfully staged, and cleverly organized, giving it a touch of modernity and relevance. It stripped the story off its mythological character and instead gave it a political relevance, without ever overdoing it [this is actually not what you feel during the show, but in the end everything falls in its right place]. Just plain perfect!

Such a reorganized way to stage this opera not only immensely helped its dramatic content, but it also stitched all the musical pieces together in a fine and elegant way.

Tomas Netopil is a great conductor and is up there with Kirill Petrenko and a couple of other young gems. Torsten Kerl has a beautiful voice and if you wanted to see him at his best, then this show will do (and Rienzi!)  I am  also sure his voice was powerful for the Vlaamse Opera. He has that natural gift for acting and this production gave him space to show it off. A big bravo to him!
Another very impressive role was the High Priest of Dagon sung by Nikola Mijailovic (a.k.a. Nicola De Michele) Who is this man?! How come that we don't get to see him more often? Brilliantly dark baritone uses his voice to portray a mean character, and not by making too many parasitic "I am evil" gestures. Big bravo to him too!  Marianna Tarasova does not have a vocal agility of Olga Borodina when abruptly changing from her lower to high registers, but has a beautiful voice and overall sings the role beautifully. A fine bass, Tijl Faveyts, completes a strong cast.

The choreography is modern (not swanny!), the costumes perfectly appropriate... in short, this is a DVD definitely worth seeing more than once. Its scenic solutions bring the dramatic quality this opera is normally lacking. The Flanders Opera folks definitely know how to stage the French 19th century repertoire (I know I already said that!)

Trailer by EuroArts:

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