This production starts with a chorus of downtrodden Israelites, clearly owing a lot to Verdi's Nabucco. The singers clutch various spare parts, hub-caps, exhaust systems as they sing in front of a giant radiator. I scanned the credits but I could find no suggestion that the production is sponsored by an automobile company. Anyway the La Scala chorus is so good that I soon forgot the motoring theme and settled back to enjoy the music.
Plácido Domingo is in impressive form as a, rather elderly Samson. He plays him as a Jewish prophet with a long beard and flowing robes. There is no hint of the strongman that some of us may remember from the 1949 Cecil B Demille film starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr. Still, this opera is more about Dalila than Samson and here the sensuous Olga Borodina can certainly give Hedy Lamarr a run for her money in the glamour stakes. Saint-Säens wrote beautifully for the mezzo voice and La Borodina gives a thrilling account in the very low tessitura of this role. She is at her best singing very softly such as during the famous Mon Coeur S'Ouvre à Ta Voix. As she sings this aria she unrolls a scarlet sheet across the stage and Domingo crawls along it towards her howling "Dalila, je t'aime" giving the impression that his tongue is hanging out like a lustful hound-dog.
Ferdinand Lemaire's intelligent libretto does not seem to mention the usual hair-cutting. Samson's downfall is simply his lust for Dalila. The blinded Samson is taken to the Philistines' temple of Dagon where there is the famous bacchanal, enthusiastically performed with much pelvic thrusting by the La Scala dancers. Samson's destruction of the temple will again disappoint Victor Mature fans as it is more metaphorical than literal.
This is another of the spectacular productions that La Scala staged during its temporary exile at the Arcimboldi Theatre. Olga Borodina's thrilling performance makes the trip to Milan's suburbs well worthwhile.
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