Opera mezzo sees softer side of Dalila in ‘Samson et Dalila’

NEW YORK (AP) — For Elina Garanca, there’s a clue nestled in the score of Camille Saint-Saens’ opera “Samson et Dalila” that suggests the pagan beauty has genuine feelings for the hero she has vowed to destroy.

“It’s just two pages, the passage right before her big aria, ‘Mon coeur,’ when she asks him to remember those old days when they were just two lovers sitting in front of each other,” said Garanca, who is starring in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera.

“The music becomes so innocent and pure and transparently light,” the Latvian mezzo-soprano said in an interview. “She really expresses how wonderful it would be if there were no religion, no power, no struggles, so they could just be two people who connect together.”

But Dalila is also furious at Samson, the leader of the Israelites, for rejecting her in favor of his god, and she carries through on her seduction so she can deliver him to his Philistine enemies.

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The production, also starring tenor Roberto Alagna as Samson and directed by Tony winner Darko Tresnjak, will be broadcast live in HD to movie theaters worldwide on Saturday.

In the opera’s final act, once Samson has been shorn of his long hair and blinded, the Philistines celebrate by mocking him. Dalila joins the public ridicule, but in Garanca’s performance when the others aren’t watching, her expression seems clouded by remorse, or at least doubt.

“Do you think she should be happy? Nobody knows, and that’s the point,” she said. “From my experience I do not know one person who has condemned somebody and who has not thought, ‘Oh, was it actually right what I did?’

“It’s open to interpretation and I don’t want to leave people with a clear picture. I want them to go home and wonder about it.”

THAT OFFSTAGE HAIRCUT

The haircut that robs Samson of his strength takes place offstage, where he has followed Dalila to consummate their love. They are gone less than two minutes before she rushes back in and summons the Philistine guards to seize him.

How do they spend their brief time out of view of the audience?

“In two minutes you can’t talk about the weather,” she said. “He takes his extensions off. I am perspiring by then so I take at least half a liter of water and wait for my next entrance. It’s not as if someone is waiting for me with a glass of champagne.”

DO MEZZOS HAVE MORE FUN?

Garanca began her career in lighter, coloratura roles and “trousers” roles playing men. But at age 42, she said her voice has become “more feminine and voluptuous” and she has been moving into weightier parts.

“Singing Mozart I always feel as if I’m running a marathon with my legs bent together,” she said. “The voice wants to take on a different size, different emotions.”

Vocally she has a wide range up to high C but said her color is definitely that of a lower-voiced mezzo. “I never wanted to be a soprano, never, no, no,” she said. “I don’t want the pressure, I don’t want the attention, I don’t want to be dying every night.”

She recently sang Princess Eboli in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” and Santuzza in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and is preparing Amneris in Verdi’s “Aida” and Kundry in Wagner’s “Parsifal.”

“I don’t expect to be singing until age 70, so for the next 10 years I want to explore the repertory that fits my personality,” she said. “I’ve reached the age where I think there’s very little I can lose.”

WHERE TO SEE IT

“Samson et Dalila,” also featuring bass-baritone Laurent Naouri as the High Priest of Dagon and conducted by Mark Elder, will be shown Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met’s website: http://www.metopera.org/hd. In the United States it will be repeated on Oct. 24, with encore showings in Canada on Nov. 17, 19, 21 and 25.

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