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Saint-Saens – Samson and Delilah

Samson – Charles Alves da Cruz
Delilah – Klara Uleman

High Priest – Peter Michailov
Abimelech – Mourad Amirkhanian
Aged Hebrew – Vincent Le Texier

Conductor – David Levi
Director/Script Writer – Corina van Eijk

Opera Spanga
Cinema delicatessen – DVD FFDOC29
[ Filmed 2007; 100 minutes]

Saint-Saens based his one great opera on events described in the Book of Judges – an epic biblical tale that Cecil B DeMille made into an epic film (Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr).

Spanga Opera, with more modest resources at their disposal, have updated the plot to the middle east of the present day and scaled it back to the more intimate proportions of an anonymous war torn outpost. It is a transition which, at the outset, seems both relevant and effective. Corina van Eijk’s subtitled English “script” is thoroughly modern and pulls no punches, and her direction is equally clear and explicit. The French sub-titles give you Ferdinand Lemaire’s original libretto.

The three principals, filmed in unforgiving close up, give totally committed and convincing performances.  Whilst their singing may be not be comparable to international opera house standards, it is more than adequate and diction throughout is exemplary.

These are the plus points that are going in the enterprise’s favour, but the down side is that it somehow never manages to rise above the limitations of a low budget movie. The sets look cramped and unconvincing, lighting and camera angles are restricted and the members of the Katowice City Singers Ensemble seem embarrassed by the whole thing. The orchestra remains anonymous, perhaps wisely. 

During the final act the action is shifted to a maternity hospital, in which all the patients go into labour simultaneously and give seemingly instantaneous birth during the frenzy of the bacchanal – a sequence which stretches credulity beyond the limit.   

Turning the alphabet on end, I would award this film “A” for enterprise and effort but only “E” for achievement of its aims. 

Serena Fenwick

We enjoyed this attempt to revive an old favourite which had fallen into disfavour in recent years. The short extra gives a useful glimpse of the director and her team at work. We agree that it does tend to fall apart in the last Act. Vision predominates over sound in modern filming and the uninhibited sexiness of this version is very taking. Inevitably opinion will be divided. For a positive impression here is a review from the Vancouver International Film Festival 2007 [Editor]

This radical reinterpretation of the celebrated Saint-Saëns' opera is a splendid example of cinema offering many things that the stage cannot. Ingenious ideas abound, from the political sparks of the contemporary setting to the sensational use of the simplest of décor to the very entertaining use the singers make of the freedom cinema allows the film lets you know you're in for something different right from the start. The setting is Gaza in Palestine, and the soldiers wear uniforms that are very like those worn in today’s Middle East. This is, of course, an Old Testament story of the struggle of the Israelites against the Philistines, and the effectiveness of the glorious score comes not only from its French melodies, but also from its successful Orientalist use of Hebrew chants and tonalities. Samson may be a hero to his people and a noble soul, but he's a sucker for a pretty face and when Delilah and her handmaidens (bedecked in outfits that would make Cher proud) come calling, Samson (the mellifluously hunky Charles Alves da Cruz) quickly throws off his prayer shawl. Klara Uleman is unforgettable in her steamy turn as the carnally inclined temptress who tricks the strong man into a haircut. Bravo!!!