Passion is a Dangerous Thing!

Hawaii Opera Theatre (HOT) has labeled their 2007 opera season the “Season of Dangerous Liaisons.” The first of the three operas for the season, Camille Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Dalila,” is definitely that. Most people know the traditional story of Samson and Delilah from the book of Judges in the Old Testament of the Bible — the story of a man of great faith who helps the Hebrew people free themselves from the Philistines. The problem is that Samson has difficulty freeing himself from his own desire for the ever-seductive Delilah. The opera is not too far off the mark.

As we sat waiting for the opera to start, I thumbed through the program reading about the artists, the contributors, the advertisers, etc. While reading the synopsis, written by John W. Freeman and provided courtesy of Opera News, I was struck by something unusual. “The outer walls of the temple disappear to reveal Samson’s former lover, the Philistine woman Dalila, who invites him to come that nigh to her nearby dwelling.” Wait, back up… Samson’s what? Two words explain a lot: “former lover.” He left her so she is the jilted lover! Hello?!? Duh!

We all have heard that expression that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Is she evil like we have always been led to believe? I think not! She’s an emotionally wounded, ego-battered woman. Get it? Hell hath no fury like Dalila’s. She’s beyond that. In short, Samson’s in big trouble and he probably deserves it.

All of that aside, the director’s note in the program tells us that this opera began as an oratorio, a musical work for voice and orchestra that tells a sacred story without the use of costumes, scenery or dramatic action. The director, William Florescu, says that this presents a challenge for a director. I can also say that the melodic content of this work, or the lack thereof, is the start of the challenges that this opera presents. Fortunately, this particular detail has no reflection on the singers, the orchestra, or the director. It just is what it is. The role of Samson was a personal disappointment for me, not the least of which was the voice. If someone thinks that voice was a tenor, my favorite of the male vocal ranges, I would hate to see what they consider to be a baritone.

Hats Off to HOT!

Take heart! All is not lost! The soprano voice of Malgorzata Walewska, playing Dalila, was powerful and in full control of the music and the role. Her control of the lower ranges of her part made up for a lot. I held my breath waiting for her voice to waver or crack and make me cringe. It never did. I have to remind myself here that this is a vocally-trained individual. I think I’ve been watching too much American Idol.

The chorus was wonderful and the orchestra was perfect! The costumes, props and stage set were appropriate, very well put together and manipulated seamlessly for the audience. The lighting was fantastic and used in a very effective away — creating moods and plot-related thoughts that would never have been there without it!

Overall, I give huge kudos to Hawaii Opera Theatre for making an attractive, artistic event out of something that could have easily flopped without their careful and talented oversight. If you’re an opera fan and planning to be in Honolulu between now and March 6th, Don Giovanni and Madama Butterfly are up next! Please support the arts!

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