Dario di Vietri Samson Dalila Seoul Arts Center

Dario di Vietri Samson Dalila Seoul Arts Center Opera House

The opening night of Saint-Saens’s Samson et Dalila (a co-production of Beseto Opera and Czech Prague State Opera Theatre) was a testimony that the tradition of Grand Opera is well and alive. One encounters, more than one wishes for, scaled down productions in the name of modernization or minimalism. In point of fact, the heart of opera is about maximization (of emotion, drama, conflict and visual feat) rather than minimization. The evening confirmed once more that opera is truly the total art.

The singers were internationally cast, consisting of artists from Korea, the Czech Republic, Italy, Russia and the USA with a few particularly remarkable members: Miguelangelo Cavalcanti (The High Priest of Dagon) displayed an excellent vocal technique and an imposing characterization of the high priest. Galia Ibragimova (Dalila) carried the flow of the entire show on her shoulder. Her sound is big and she had the seductive authority the character of Dalila demands. Her dramatic declamations were impressive, though she came dangerously close to indulgence in use of lascivious gesturing.

Cast members post-performance © Frances Park

Cast members post-performance © Frances Park

Another surprisingly memorable aspect of the evening is Christopher Temporelli (the Old Hebrew), an American bass who, with assuringly bel canto singing, brought a sophisticated portrayal to the Hebrew elder. Temporelli elevated his scenes with musicianship and sonority, creating an otherworldly atmosphere for the scene of Samson’s blessing.

Dario di Vietri sang and acted efficiently through the role of Samson. At times his voice rang heroically through the hall, though his embodiment of the character was one easily seduced by the femme fatale, rather than a national hero who suffers a clash of emotions. The orchestra was also wonderfully decent, led by the prominent Czech conductor Jiří Mikula, as an excellent operatic orchestra.

The polar extremes of the storyline through this production were set by the Old Hebrew and Hebrews, in contrast to the believers of Dagon: the contrast between the Old Hebrew of the Act I, signifying the holy force, and the great pagan rituals/orgy performed by the believers of Dagon, signifying the dark force — for which the choir and the dancers and choreography were mesmerizing — and all other elements in between. Act II, full of intrigue, seduction and betrayal, forms the battleground of the two opposing forces.

The total fanaticism shown by the High Priest of Dagon and Dalila during the pagan ritual was quite frightening, only to remind us all that mankind is ever apt to fall for such state of mind, regardless of epoch, civilization and religious denomination. In the end, the war ends abruptly by the divine intervention, in a way ironically, as one fanaticism succeeds in defeating another form of it.

The use of colour throughout the production added to its power, from beautiful overlapping of fantastical purple and orange tints, capturing the dawn where light and darkness meet, to the scarlet pink brilliance of the lecherous heathens set against the grey cloths the wretched enslaved crowd were wearing.

The genius of Saint-Saëns shone marvellously through this brilliant interpretation, which essentially did justice to the heart of Opera; a dash of madness mixed with high theatricality — a great night at the opera for all senses.