Tag Archives: Samson and Delilah

Just Classics 2 The Gold Collection

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Sara Macliver (soprano)

Fiona Campbell (mezzo soprano)

Benjamin Northey (conductor)

476 3341 Just Classics Gold

ABC Classics 476 3341

TPT: 61’58”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

I can’t recall hearing a finer version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man than on this compact disc. Bass drum and tam tam are used to thrilling effect; it’s a perfect overture to the compilation.

Much of the offering consists of much loved classics that are heard time and again on radio or in live performance – but there is not a hint here of familiarity breeding indifference. On the contrary, there is the most appealing freshness to the playing, even in so hackneyed a piece as the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And in Dvorak’s Furiant No 8, the WASO brass section is very much on its collective toes.

Many of those listening to Respighi’s Bergamasca will recognise it instantly as the theme music for Marian Arnold’s much loved, long running Listeners’ Requests on ABC Classic FM.

Fiona Campbell is in exceptional voice in Mahler’s Ging heut’ Morgen. Producing an immaculate stream of fine mellow vocal tone, Campbell makes magic of this much loved lied. And soprano Sara Macliver is no less persuasive in Song of the Pistachio Harvesters from Ravel’s Five Greek Songs, informed as it is by a most appropriate sense of languor.

Also on disc is Saint Saens’ faux-Oriental Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah; woodwinds are very much on their toes here as in Dance of  the Little Swans from Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake.

Take a bow, WASO! Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain is given first rate treatment with Benjamin Northey presiding over events to frankly thrilling effect as the score’s satanic revelry is suggested to the nth degree. And the striding motif from the Montagues and Capulets episode from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet fairly sizzles with intensity.

The West Australian Symphony orchestra does not frequently feature on ABC Classics label so this recording is particularly welcome. Certainly, recording engineers Karl Akers and Gavin Fernie have ensured the WASO is heard to very best advantage here; recorded sound is uniformly excellent.



Samson and Delilah (Saint Saens)
W.A.Opera Company and Chorus
W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Supreme Court Gardens


Reviewed by Neville Cohn

Despite competing events such as a concert at Leeuwin Estate and the Western Force versus Chiefs rugby match, some fifteen thousand spectators turned up for what has become one of the most loved Perth institutions: the annual Opera in the Park presentation in Supreme Court Gardens.

Seated on rugs or lawn, mums and dads with kiddies in arms or prams, surrounded by an agreeable clutter of eskies, picnic baskets, chicken salad and chardonnay bottles, were an exemplarily well behaved audience experiencing what for most would probably have been a first encounter with Saint Saens’ operatic treatment of the biblical story of Samson.

In passing, it’s worth mentioning that, despite the immense inherent drama of this ancient story (which, prior to Saint Saens’ work, was given at least eleven operatic treatments including one by Rameau to a libretto by none other than Voltaire) no one has so far succeeded in creating a setting that is fully worthy of it.

Seldom heard anywhere in the antipodes, the ancient story of the Bible’s muscle man and the faithless temptress Delilah is, for much of the work and especially in Acts 1 and 2 – dare one whisper it? – as arid and featureless as the desert sands that surround Gaza where the opera is set. Thousands of years later, Gaza is still very much in the news – and for all the worst reasons.

Stuart Skelton in the eponymous role was star of the evening, a tenor ideally suited to the role. For much of the performance, he produced the most agreeable stream of mellow sound in phrasing that was the hallmark of refined musicianship. Certainly, he adapted chameleon-like to the many interpretative nuances of the part. The closing moments of the opera were particularly affecting as Samson – his locks shorn by Delilah (an event that, oddly, is not mentioned in the work), his strength dissipated as a result and, in Milton’s chilling phrase ‘eyeless in Gaza’ – calls on the Lord who gives back Samson’s strength to bring Dagon’s temple crashing down on the Philistines.

Bernadette Cullen sang Delilah. Some occasional hardness of tone aside, she presented her arias with considerable expressiveness – but in Softly Awakes My heart, that most famous excerpt from the opera, strings sounded rather too thin and scrappy, the semiquaver accompaniment lacking that pulsing quality that is so crucial an interpretative requirement.

Acts 3 and 4 yielded some of the most satisfying listening dividends of the evening. The fake-Middle Eastern Bacchanale dance sequence – imitated again and again down the years by composers for trashy, Arabian Nights-type movies – came across in fine style. Laurels to Joel Marangella; his sinuous oboe line was heard to excellent advantage here.

Under Brian Castles-Onion’s direction, the W.A.Opera Chorus and vocal soloists did sterling work in making the listener aware of the cauldron of seething emotion that makes the closing Acts such compelling listening. Very much earlier in the piece, it was much to the credit of the choristers that they made the frankly tedious declamations that the composer gave to them sound better than they in fact are in operatic terms. Indeed, most of the choral work in Act I supports the argument, often put forward, that Saint Saens’ biblical epic might have had greater acceptance as an oratorio than as an opera.

But there are most certainly moments that make for the grandest of grand operatic effects. This is most powerfully the case with Delilah, towards the close of the work, relishing her moment of triumph after cutting Samson’s locks, with the High Priest (Bruce Martin) gloating over the muscle man’s downfall, only to have their comeuppance in the ruins of the temple.

For many an older member of the audience, this may well recall the closing moments of Cecil B. de Mille’s 1950’s movie epic starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in the film’s eponymous roles.

Smaller roles were taken by David Dockery (Abimelech) and Robert Hoffmann (Old Hebrew).



Adding to the pleasure of the evening was an unexpected bonus for all during the interval: a white-clad, gracefully gyrating gymnast held aloft by a big, illuminated helium balloon sailing to and fro above the gathered, fascinated throng, the balloon’s track path controlled by ropes gripped by two hefty young fellows on the ground. (The previous night, this delight sailed across PIAF goings-on at Kalgoorlie, with Port Hedland next on the list.)

I cannot readily recall an Opera in the Park presentation that scored so well on so many counts. Presenting Samson and Delilah would have been a calculated risk. That so many attended suggests that it is not necessarily the case that only safe, top-ten operas should be presented at these events. Let’s have more works that are less frequently encountered here. What about Tchaikowsky’s Eugene Onegin, Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore or Smetana’s The Bartered Bride?

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn