To describe the Metropolitan Opera’s season-opening manufacturing of Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila as gaudy, tacky, and foolish is a praise, not a grievance. The director, Darko Tresnjak, embraces the work’s orientalist camp and labors mightily to put it aside from self-importance. The staging steers away from biblical Gaza or any makes an attempt at political timeliness and heads straight for the unique sci-fi aesthetic of the 1950s and ’60s. Samson has a superpowerful mullet, Dalila a sunken den, lit in shades of mauve and teal.
Set designer Alexander Dodge veils the stage not with a curtain however with a mesh display screen hanging from a rounded arch. Once that goes up, perforated screens and round openings proliferate: high-tech allusions to conventional Arab latticework and Moorish arches, putting the motion in a never-never Middle East. The opera is lopsided, as a buddy identified, as a result of being a Philistine is a lot extra enjoyable, particularly in Tresnjak’s manufacturing. They get the spiky crowns and blood-orange robes, orgies, some Arabian snake-charmer music, an idol the dimensions of a Saddam Hussein statue, and a dance troupe with spray-on-gilt and the most effective buttocks in Gaza. The Jews get solemnity, resentment, and dishevelled white garb.
This story of clashing peoples calls for massive units, massive voices, a crowd of singers, a corps of dancers, and limitless portions of glitter. The Met provided all of them with out apparently breaking a sweat. The firm’s new music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, doesn’t report back to the rostrum till a brand new La Trata in December, so opening-night duties fell to Sir Mark Elder, who led a vigorous and supple efficiency. The orchestra and refrain shone with dependable brilliance. And but all this equipment will depend on the 2 stars, Roberto Alagna and Elīna Garanča, who carry the opera’s payload of romance.
Alagna’s Samson is a mopey sort of Avenger, davening by way of the primary act, mooning over Delilah within the second, and moaning about his downfall within the third. He is at his finest in Act Two, when his still-seductive voice intertwines with Garanča’s Dalila. He takes solely occasional breaks for spasms of pious remorse, which he indicators with awkward twists of his torso or by resting his forehead towards a bit of surroundings. Alagna was by no means an particularly versatile singer, and right here unhappy Samson, lovestruck Samson, and wrathful Samson all sound just about the identical. But then if you happen to’re in search of deep characterization, you’re on the incorrect opera, anyway. Alagna will get by way of it by doing what he has been doing, typically beautifully, for 30 years: laying down his voice in a easy, candy line of lemon crème. On opening evening, the squeeze bottle ran dry in the direction of the tip of the opera, and his final utterance sounded extra like a cough than a righteous roar, however for a lot of the night he was relaxed making tones of unflappable tenderness.
Garanča tries tougher to be a tricky Dalila, the Philistine Mata Hari who beds, shears, and lords it over her musclebound dupe of a lover. But she places her pagan scheming apart lengthy sufficient to caress the central love scene together with her seamless, high-gloss mezzo-soprano. Spectacle drops away, and the stage is cleared of extras, dancers, monks, and guards, leaving only a tenor and a mezzo who, for causes unknown, really feel that neither can reside with out the opposite. And for these ten minutes of vocal magnificence, that’s all ye know on earth, and all ye have to know.