THERE are but two musical works based on the story of Samson on the current list to-day, Handel’s oratorio and Saint-Saëns’s opera ; but lyric drama was still in its infancy when the subject first took hold of the fancy of composers and it has held it ever since. The earliest works were of the kind called sacred operas in the books and are spoken of as oratorios now, though they were doubtless performed with scenery and costumes and with action of a sort. Such were “Il Sansone” by Giovanni Paola Colonna (Bologna, 1677), “Sansone accecato da Filistri” by Francesco Antonio Uri (Venice, about 1700), “Simson” by Christoph Graupner (Hamburg, 1709), “Simson” by Georg von Pasterwitz (about 1770), “Samson” by J. N. Lefroid Mereaux (Paris, 1774), “Simson” by Johann Heinrich Rolle (about 1790), “Simson” by Franz Tuczek (Vienna, 1804), and “Il Sansone” by Francesco Basili (Naples, 1824). Two French operas are associated with great names and have interesting histories. Voltaire wrote a dramatic text on the subject at the request of La Popelinière, the farmer-general, who, as poet, musician, and artist, exercised a tremendous influence in his day. Rameau was in his service as household clavecinist and set Voltaire’s poem. The authors looked forward to a production on the stage of the Grand Opéra, where at least two Biblical operas, an Old Testament “Jephté” and a New Testament “Enfant prodigue” were current ; but Rameau had powerful enemies, and the opera was prohibited on the eve of the day on which it was to have been performed. The composer had to stomach his mortification as best he could ; he put some of his Hebrew music into the service of his Persian “Zoroastre.”
The other French Samson to whom I have referred had also to undergo a sea-change like unto Rameau’s, Rossini’s Moses, and Verdi’s Nebuchadnezzar. Duprez, who was ambitious to shine as a composer as well as a singer (he wrote no less than eight operas and also an oratorio, “The Last Judgment”), tried his hand on a Samson opera and succeeded in enlisting the help of Dumas the elder in writing the libretto. When he was ready to present it at the door of the Grand Opéra the Minister of Fine Arts told him that it was impracticable, as the stage-setting of the last act alone would cost more than 100,000 francs. Duprez then followed the example set with Rossini’s “Mosè” in London and changed the book to make it tell a story of the crusades which he called “Zephora.” Nevertheless the original form was restored in German and Italian translations of the work, and it had concert performances in 1857. To Joachim Raff was denied even this poor comfort. He wrote a German “Simson” between 1851 and 1857. The conductor at Darmstadt to whom it was first submitted rejected it on the ground that it was too difficult for his singers. Raff then gave it to Liszt, with whom he was sojourning at Weimar, and who had taken pity on his “Kong Alfred” ; but the tenor singer at the Weimar opera said the music was too high for the voice. Long afterward Wagner’s friend, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, saw the score in the hands of the composer. The heroic stature of the hero delighted him, and his praise moved Raff to revise the opera ; but before this had been done Schnorr died of the cold contracted while creating the rôle of Wagner’s Tristan at Munich in 1865. Thus mournfully ended the third episode. As late as 1882 Raff spoke of taking the opera in hand again, but though he may have done so his death found the work unperformed and it has not yet seen the light of the stage-lamps.
Saint-Saëns’s opera has also passed through many vicissitudes, but has succumbed to none and is probably possessed of more vigorous life now than it ever had. It is the recognized operatic master-piece of the most resourceful and fecund French musician since Berlioz. Saint-Saëns began the composition of “Samson et Dalila” in 1869. The author of the book, Ferdinand Lemaire, was a cousin of the composer. Before the breaking out of the Franco-Prussian War the score was so far on the way to completion that it was possible to give its second act a private trial. This was done, an incident of the occasion which afterward introduced one element of pathos in its history being the singing of the part of Samson by the painter Henri Regnault, who soon after lost his life in the service of his country. A memorial to him and the friendship which existed between him and the composer is the “Marche Héroique,” which bears the dead man’s name on its title-page. Toward the end of 1872 the opera was finished. For two years the score rested in the composer’s desk. Then the second act was again brought forth for trial, this time at the country home of Mme. Viardot, at Croissy, the illustrious hostess singing the part of Dalila. In 1875 the first act was performed in concert style by M. Edouard Colonne in Paris. Liszt interested himself in the opera and secured its acceptance at the Grand Ducal Opera House of Weimar, where Eduard Lassen brought it out on December 2, 1877. Brussels heard it in 1878 ; but it did not reach one of the theatres of France until March 3, 1890, when Rouen produced it at its Thé-âtre des Arts under the direction of M. Henri Verdhurt. It took nearly seven months more to reach Paris, where the first representation was at the Eden Theatre on October 31 of the same year. Two years later, after it had been heard in a number of French and Italian provincial theatres, it was given at the Académie Nationale de Musique under the direction of M. Colonne. The part of Dalila was taken by Mme. Deschamps-Jehin, that of Samson by M. Vergnet, that of the High Priest by M. Lassalle. Eight months before this it had been performed as an oratorio by the Oratorio Society of New York. There were two performances, on March 25 and 26, 1892, the conductor being Mr. Walter Damrosch and the principal singers being Frau Marie Ritter-Goetze, Sebastian Montariol, H. E. Distelhurst, Homer Moore, Emil Fischer, and Purdon Robinson. London had heard the work twice as an oratorio before it had a stage representation there on April 26, 1909, but this performance was fourteen years later than the first at the Metropolitan Opera House on February 8, 1895. The New York performance was scenically inadequate, but the integrity of the record demands that the cast be given here : Samson, Signor Ta-magno ; Dalila, Mme. Mantelli ; High Priest, Signor Campanari ; Abimelech and An Old Hebrew, M. Plancon ; First Philistine, Signor Rinaldini ; Second Philistine, Signor de Vachetti; conductor, Signor Mancinelli. The Metropolitan management did not venture upon a repetition until the opening night of the season 1915-1916, when its success was such that it became an active factor in the repertory of the establishment ; but by that time it had been made fairly familiar to the New York public by performances at the Manhattan Opera House under the management cf Mr. Oscar Hammerstein, the first of which took place on November 13, 1908. Signor Campanini conducted and the cast embraced Mme. Gerville-Réache as Dalila, Charles Dalmorès as Samson, and M. Dufranne as High Priest. The cast at the Metropolitan Opera House’s revival of the opera on November 15, 1915, was as follows : Dalila, Mme. Margarete Matzenauer ; Samson, Signor Enrico Caruso ; High Priest, Signor Pas-quale Amato ; Abimelech, Herr Carl Schlegel ; An Old Hebrew, M. Léon Rothier ; A Philistine Messenger, Herr Max Bloch; First Philistine, Pietro Audisio ; Second Philistine, Vincenzo Reschiglian ; conductor, Signor Polacco.
It would be a curious inquiry to try to determine the source of the fascination which the story of Manoah’s son has exerted upon mankind for centuries. It bears a likeness to the story of the son of Zeus and Alcmene, and there are few books on mythology which do not draw a parallel between the two heroes. Samson’s story is singularly brief. For twenty years he “judged Israel,” but the Biblical history which deals with him consists only of an account of his birth, a recital of the incidents in which he displayed his prodigious strength and valor, the tale of his amours, and, at the end, the account of his tragical destruction, brought about by the weak element in his character.
Commentators have been perplexed by the tale, irrespective of the adornments which it has received at the hands of the Talmudists. Is Samson a Hebrew form of the conception personified by the Greek Herakles ? Is he a mythical creature, born in the human imagination of primitive nature worship – a variant of the Tyrian sun-god Shemesh, whose name his so curiously resembles? Was he something more than a man of extraordinary physical strength and extraordinary moral weakness, whose patriotic virtues and pathetic end have kept his memory alive through the ages? Have a hundred generations of men to whom the story of Herakles has appeared to be only a fanciful romance, the product of that imagination heightened by religion which led the Greeks to exalt their supreme heroes to the extent of deification, persisted in hearing and telling the story of Samson with a sympathetic interest which betrays at least a sub-conscious belief in its verity? Is the story only a parable enforcing a moral lesson which is as old as humanity? If so, how got it into the canonical Book of Judges, which, with all its mythical and legendary material, seems yet to contain a large substratum of unquestionable history?
There was nothing of the divine essence in Samson as the Hebrews conceived him, except that spirit of God with which he was directly endowed in supreme crises. There is little evidence of his possession of great wisdom, but strong proof of his moral and religious laxity. He sinned against the laws of Israel’s God when he took a Philistine woman, an idolater, to wife ; he sinned against the moral law when he visited the harlot at Gaza. He was wofully weak in character when he yielded to the blandishments of Delilah and wrought his own undoing, as well as that of his people. The disgraceful slavery into which Herakles fell was not caused by the hero’s incontinence or uxoriousness, but a punishment for crime, in that he had in a fit of madness killed his friend Iphitus. And the three years which he spent as the slave of Omphale were punctuated by larger and better deeds than those of Samson in like situation bursting the new cords with which the men of Judah had bound him and the green withes and new ropes with which Delilah shackled him. The record that Samson “judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” leads the ordinary reader to think of him as a sage, judicial personage, whereas it means only that he was the political and military leader of his people during that period, lifted to a magisterial position by his strength and prowess in war. His achievements were muscular, not mental.
Rabbinical legends have magnified his stature and power in precisely the same manner as the imagination of the poet of the “Lay of the Nibelung” magnified the stature and strength of Siegfried. His shoulders, says the legend, were sixty ells broad ; when the Spirit of God came on him he could step from Zorah to Eshtaol although he was lame in both feet; the hairs of his head arose and clashed against one another so that they could be heard for a like distance; he was so strong that he could uplift two mountains and rub them together like two clods of earth. Herakles tore asunder the mountain which, divided, now forms the Straits of Gibraltar and Gates of Hercules.
The parallel which is frequently drawn between Samson and Herakles cannot be pursued far with advantage to the Hebrew hero. Samson rent a young lion on the road to Timnath, whither he was going to take his Philistine wife ; Herakles, while still a youthful herdsman, slew the Thespian lion and afterward strangled the Nemean lion with his hands. Samson carried off the gates of Gaza and bore them to the top of a hill before Hebron ; Her-aides upheld the heavens while Atlas went to fetch the golden apples of Hesperides. Moreover, the feats of Herakles show a higher intellectual quality than those of Samson, all of which, save one, were predominantly physical. The exception was the trick of tying 300 foxes by their tails, two by two, with firebrands between and turning them loose to burn the corn of the Philistines. An ingenious way to spread a conflagration, probably, but primitive, decidedly primitive. Herakles was a scientific engineer of the modern school ; he yoked the rivers Alpheus and Peneüs to his service by turning their waters through the Augean stables and cleansing them of the deposits of 3000 oxen for thirty years. Herakles had excellent intellectual training ; Rhadamanthus taught him wisdom and virtue, Linus music. We know nothing about the bringing up of Samson save that “the child grew and the Lord blessed him. And the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.” Samson made little use of his musical gifts, if he had any, but that little he made well ; Herakles made little use of his musical training, and that little he made ill. He lost his temper and killed his music master with his lute ; Samson, after using an implement which only the black slaves of our South have treated as a musical instrument, to slay a thousand Philistines, jubilated in song :
With the jawbone of an ass Heaps upon heaps ! With the jawbone of an ass Have I slain a thousand men !
The vast fund of human nature laid bare in the story of Samson is, it appears to me, quite sufficient to explain its popularity, and account for its origin. The hero’s virtues strength, courage, patriotism are those which have ever won the hearts of men, and they present themselves as but the more admirable, as they are made to appear more natural, by pairing with that amiable weakness, susceptibility to woman’s charms.
After all Samson is a true type of the tragic hero, whatever Dr. Chrysander or another may say. He is impelled by Fate into a commission of the follies which bring about the wreck of his body. His marriage with the Philistine woman in Timnath was part of a divine plot, though unpatriotic and seemingly impious. When his father said unto him “Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren or among all my people that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?” he did not know that “it was of the Lord that he sought an occasion against the Philistines.” Out of that wooing and winning grew the first of the encounters which culminated in the destruction of the temple of Dagon, when “the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” So his yielding to the pleadings of his wife when she betrayed the answer to his riddle and his succumbing to the wheedling arts of Delilah when he betrayed the secret of his strength (acts incompatible with the character of an ordinary strong and wise man) were of the type essential to the machinery of the Greek drama.
A word about the mythological interpretation of the characters which have been placed in parallel : It may be helpful to an understanding of the Hellenic mind to conceive Herakles as a marvellously strong man, first glorified into a national hero and finally deified. So, too, the theory that Herakles sinking down upon his couch of fire is but a symbol of the declining sun can be entertained without marring the grandeur of the hero or belittling Nature’s phenomenon ; but it would obscure our under-standing of the Hebrew intellect and profane the Hebrew religion to conceive Samson as anything but the man that the Bible says he was ; while to make of him, as Ignaz Golziher suggests, a symbol of the setting sun whose curly locks (crines Phoebi) are sheared by Delilah-Night, would bring contumely upon one of the most beautiful and impressive of Nature’s spectacles. Before the days of comparative mythology scholars were not troubled by such interpretations. Josephus disposes of the Delilah episode curtly “As for Samson being en-snared by a woman, that is to be ascribed to human nature, which is too weak to resist sin.”
It is not often that an operatic figure invites to such a study as that which I have attempted in the case of Samson, and it may be that the side-wise excursion in which I have indulged invites criticism of the kind illustrated in the metaphor of using a club to brain a gnat. But I do not think so. If heroic figures seem small on the operatic stage, it is the fault of either the author or the actor. When genius in a creator is paired with genius in an interpreter, the hero of an opera is quite as deserving of analytical study as the hero of a drama which is spoken. No labor would be lost in studying the character of Wagner’s heroes in order to illuminate the impersonations of Niemann, Lehmann, or Scaria ; nor is Maurel’s lago less worthy of investigation than Edwin Booth’s.
The character of Delilah presents even more features of interest than that of the man of whom she was the undoing, and to those features I purpose to devote some attention presently.
There is no symbolism in Saint-Saëns’s opera. It is frankly a piece for the lyric theatre, albeit one in which adherence to a plot suggested by the Biblical story compelled a paucity of action which had to be made good by spectacle and music. The best element in a drama being that which finds expression in action and dialogue, and these being restricted by the obvious desire of the composers to avoid such extraneous matter as Rossini and others were wont to use to add interest to their Biblical operas (the secondary love stories, for instance), Saint-Saëns could do nothing else than employ liberally the splendid factor of choral music which the oratorio form brought to his hand.
We are introduced to that factor without delay. Even before the first scene is opened to our eyes we hear the voice of the multitude in prayer. The Israelites, oppressed by their conquerors and sore stricken at the reflection that their God has deserted them, lament, accuse, protest, and pray. Before they have been heard, the poignancy of their woe has been published by the orchestra, which at once takes its place beside the chorus as a peculiarly eloquent expositor of the emotions and passions which propel the actors in the drama. That mission and that eloquence it maintains from the beginning to the final catastrophe, the instrumental band doing its share toward characterizing the opposing, forces, emphasizing the solemn dignity of the Hebrew religion and contrasting it with the sensuous and sensual frivolity of the worshippers of Dagon. The choral prayer has for its instrumental substructure an obstinate syncopated figure, which rises with the agonized cries of the people and sinks with their utterances of despair. The device of introducing voices before the disclosure of visible action in an opera is not new, and in this case is both uncalled for and ineffective. Gounod made a somewhat similar effort in his “Roméo et Juliette,” where a costumed group of singers presents a prologue, vaguely visible through a gauze curtain. Meyerbeer tried the expedient in “Le Pardon de Ploërmel,” and the siciliano in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana” and the prologue in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” are other cases in point. Of these only the last can be said to achieve its purpose in arresting the early attention of the audience. When the curtain opens we see a public place in Gaza in front of the temple of Dagon. The Israelites are on their knees and in attitudes of mourning, among them Samson. The voice of lamentation takes a fugal form as the oppressed people tell of the sufferings which they have endured : Nous avons vu nos cités renversées Et les gentils profanants ton autel, etc.
The expression rises almost to the intensity of sacrilegious accusation as the people recall to God the vow made to them in Egypt, but sinks to accents of awe when they reflect upon the incidents of their former serfdom. Now Samson stands forth. In a broad arioso, half recitative, half cantilena, wholly in the oratorio style when it does not drop into the mannerism of Meyerbeerian opera, he admonishes his brethren of their need to trust in God, their duty to worship Him, of His promises to aid them, of the wonders that He had already wrought in their behalf ; he bids them to put off their doubts and put on their armor of faith and valor. As he proceeds in his preachment he develops somewhat of the theatrical pose of John of Leyden in “The Prophet.” The Israelites mutter gloomily of the departure of their days of glory, but gradually take warmth from the spirit which has obsessed Samson and pledge themselves to do battle with the foe with him under the guidance of Jehovah.
Now Abimelech, Satrap of Gaza, appears surrounded by Philistine soldiers. He rails at the Israelites as slaves, sneers at their God as impotent and craven, lifts up the horn of Dagon, who, he says, shall pursue Jehovah as a falcon pursues a dove. The speech fills Samson with a divine anger, which bursts forth in a canticle of prayer and prophecy. There is a flash as of swords in the scintillant scale passages which rush upward from the eager, angry, pushing figure which mutters and rages among the instruments. The Israelites catch fire from Samson’s ecstatic ardor and echo the words in which he summons them to break their chains. Abimelech rushes forward to kill Samson, but the hero wrenches the sword from the Philistine’s hand and strikes him dead. The satrap’s soldiers would come to his aid, but are held in fear by the hero, who is now armed. The Israelites rush off to make war on their oppressors. The High Priest comes down from the temple of Dagon and pauses where the body of Abimelech lies. Two Philistines tell of the fear which had paralyzed them when Samson showed his might. The High Priest rebukes them roundly for their cowardice, but has scarcely uttered his denunciation before a Messenger enters to tell him that Samson and his Israelitish soldiers have overrun and ravaged the country. Curses and vows of vengeance against Israel, her hero, and her God from the mouth of Dagon’s servant. One of his imprecations is destined to be fulfilled :
Maudit soit le sein de la femme Qui lui donna le jour ! Qu’enfin une compagne infame Trahisse son amour !
Revolutions run a rapid course in operatic Pales-tine. The insurrection is but begun with the slaying of Abimelech, yet as the Philistines, bearing away his body, leave the scene, it is only to make room for the Israelites, chanting of their victory. We expect a sonorous hymn of triumph, but the people of God have been chastened and awed by their quick deliverance, and their paean is in the solemn tone of temple psalmody, the first striking bit of local color which the composer has introduced into his score a reticence on his part of which it may be said that it is all the more remarkable from the fact that local color is here completely justified.
It is a fine piece of dramatic characterization, which is followed by one whose serene beauty is heightened by contrast. Dalila and a company of singing and dancing Philistine women come in bearing garlands of flowers. Not only Samson’s senses, our own as well, are ravished by the delightful music.
Dalila is here and it is become necessary to say something of her, having said so much about the man whose destruction she accomplished. Let the ingenious and erudite Philip Hale introduce her : “Was Delilah a patriotic woman, to be ranked with Jael and Judith, or was she merely a courtesan, as certain opera singers who impersonate her in the opera seem to think? E. Meier says that the word `Delilah’ means ‘the faithless one.’ Ewald translates it `traitress,’ and so does Ranke. Knobel characterizes her as die Zarte, which means tender, delicate, but also subtle. Lange is sure that she was a weaver woman, if not an out-and-out `zonah.’ There are other Germans who think the word is akin to the verb einlullen, to lull asleep. Some liken it to the Arabic dalilah, a woman who misguides, a bawd. See in `The Thousand Nights and a Night’ the speech of the damsel to Aziz : `If thou marry me thou wilt at least be safe from the daughter of Dalilah, the Wily One.’ Also `The Rogueries of Dalilah, the Crafty, and her daughter, Zayrah, the Coney Catcher.”
We are directly concerned here with the Dalila of the opera, but Mr. Hale invites us to an excursion which offers a pleasant occupation for a brief while, and we cheerfully go with him. The Biblical Delilah is a vague figure, except in two respects : She is a woman of such charms that she wins the love of Samson, and such guile and cupidity that she plays upon his passion and betrays him to the lords of the Philistines for pay. The Bible knows nothing of her patriotism, nor does the sacred historian give her the title of Samson’s wife, though it has long been the custom of Biblical commentators to speak of her in this relation. St. Chrysostom set the fashion and Milton followed it :
But who is this? What thing of sea or land Female of sex it seems That, so bedeck’d, ornate and gay Comes this way sailing Like a stately ship Of Tarsus, bound for the isles Of Javan or Gadire, With all her bravery on, and tackle trim, Sails fill’d and streamers waving, Courted by all the winds that hold them play ; An amber scent of odorous perfume Her harbinger, a damsel train behind ? Some rich Philistian matron she may seem ; And now, at nearer view, no other certain Than Dalila, thy wife.
It cannot be without significance that the author of the story in the Book of Judges speaks in a different way of each of the three women who play a part in the tragedy of Samson’s life. The woman who lived among the vineyards of Timnath, whose murder Samson avenged, was his wife. She was a Philistine, but Samson married her according to the conventional manner of the time and, also according to the manner of the time, she kept her home with her parents after her marriage. Wherefore she has gotten her name in the good books of the sociological philosophers who uphold the matronymic theory touching early society. The woman of Gaza whom Samson visited what time he con-founded his would-be captors by carrying off the doors of the gates of the city was curtly “an harlot.” Of the third woman it is said only that it came to pass that Samson “loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” Thereupon follows the story of her bribery by the lords of the Philistines and her betrayal of her lover. Evidently a licentious woman who could not aspire even to the merit of the heroine of Dekker’s play.
Milton not only accepted the theory of her wifehood, but also attributed patriotic motives to her. She knew that her name would be defamed “in Dan, in Judah and the bordering tribes.”
But in my country, where I most desire, In Eeron, Gaza, Asdod and in Gath, I shall be nam’d among the famousest Of women, sung at solemn festivals, Living and dead recorded, who to save Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose Above the faith of wedlock bands ; my tomb With odours visited and annual flowers ; Not less renown’d than in Mount Ephraim Jael, who, with inhospitable guile, Smote Sisera sleeping.
In the scene before us Dalila is wholly and simply a siren, a seductress who plays upon the known love of Samson from motives which are not disclosed. As yet one may imagine her moved by a genuine passion. She turns her lustrous black eyes upon him as she hails him a double victor over his foes and her heart, and invites him to rest from his arms in her embraces in the fair valley of Sorek. Temptation seizes upon the soul of Samson. He prays God to make him steadfast ; but she winds her toils the tighter : It is for him that she has bound a coronet of purple grapes upon her forehead and entwined the rose of Sharon in her ebon tresses. An Old Hebrew warns against the temptress and Samson agonizingly invokes a veil over the beauty that has enchained him.
“Extinguish the fires of those eyes which enslave me.” thus he.
“Sweet is the lily of the valley, pleasant the juices of mandragora, but sweeter and more pleasant are my kisses !” thus she.
The Old Hebrew warns again : “If thou give ear to her honeyed phrases, my son, curses will alight on thee which no tears that thou may’st weep will ever efface.”
But still the siren song rings in his ears. The maidens who had come upon the scene with Dalila (are they priestesses of Dagon?) dance, swinging their floral garlands seductively before the eyes of Samson and his followers. The hero tries to avoid the glances which Dalila, joining in the dance, throws upon him. It is in vain ; his eyes follow her through all the voluptuous postures and movements of the dance.
And Dalila sings “Printemps qui commence” a song often heard in concert-rooms, but not so often as the air with which the love-duet in the second act reaches its culmination, which is popularly held also to mark the climax of the opera. That song is wondrously insinuating in its charm ; it pulsates with passion, so much so, indeed, that it is difficult to conceive that its sentiments are feigned, but this is lovelier in its fresh, suave, graceful, and healthy beauty.
As Dalila leaves the scene her voice and eyes repeat their lure, while Samson’s looks and acts betray the trouble of his soul.
It is not until we see and hear Dalila in the second act that she is revealed to us in her true character. Not till now does she disclose the motives of her conduct toward her lover. Night is falling in the valley of Sorek, the vale which lies between the hill country which the Israelites entered from the East, and the coast land which the Philistines, supposedly an island people, invaded from the West. Dalila, gorgeously apparelled, is sitting on a rock near the portico of her house. The strings of the orchestra murmur and the chromatic figure which we shall hear again in her love-song coos in the wood-winds.
She awaits him whom passion has made her slave in full confidence of her hold upon him.
Samson, recherchant ma présence, Ce soir doit venir en ces lieux. Voici l’heure de la vengeance Qui doit satisfaire nos dieux ! Amour ! viens aider ma faiblesse !
The vengeance of her gods shall be glutted; it is to that end she invokes the power of love to strengthen her weakness. A passion like his will not down that she knows. To her comes the High Priest: Samson’s strength, he says, is super-natural and flows from a vow with which he was consecrated to effect the glory of Israel. Once while he lay in her arms that strength had deserted him, but now, it is said, he flouts her love and doubts his own passion. There is no need to try to awaken jealousy in the heart of Dalila; she hates Samson more bitterly than the leader of his enemies. She is not mercenary, like the Biblical woman ; she scorns the promise of riches which the High Priest offers so she obtain the secret of the Hebrew’s strength. Thrice had she essayed to learn that secret and thrice had he set her spell at naught. Now she will assail him with tears a woman’s weapon.
The rumblings of thunder are heard ; the scene is lit up by flashes of lightning. Running before the storm, which is only a precursor and a symbol of the tempest which is soon to rend his soul, Sam-son comes. Dalila upbraids her lover, rebukes his fears, protests her grief. Samson cannot with-stand her tears. He confesses his love, but he must obey the will of a higher power. “What god is mightier than Love?” Let him but doubt her constancy and she will die. And she plays her trump card : “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix,” while the fluttering strings and cooing wood-winds insinuate themselves into the crevices of Samson’s moral harness and loosen the rivets that hold it together.
Herein lies the strength and the weakness of music : it must fain be truthful. Dalila’s words may be hypocritical, but the music speaks the speech of genuine passion. Not until we hear the refrain echoed mockingly in the last scene of dolciss. e cantabile assail the drama can we believe that the passion hymned in this song is feigned. And we almost deplore that the composer put it to such disgraceful use. Samson hears the voice of his God in the growing storm and again hesitates. The storm bursts as Dalila shrieks out the hate that fills her and runs toward her dwelling.
Beethoven sought to suggest external as well as internal peace in the “Dona nobis” of his Mass in D by mingling the sounds of war with the prayer for peace ; Saint-Saëns pictures the storm in nature and in Samson’s soul by the music which accompanies the hero as he raises his hands mutely in prayer; then follows the temptress with faltering steps and enters her dwelling. The tempest reaches its climax ; Dalila appears at the window with a shout to the waiting Philistine soldiery below. The voice of Samson cuts through the stormy night: “Trahison !”
Act III. First scene : A prison in Gaza. Sam-son, shorn of his flowing locks, which as a Nazarite he had vowed should never be touched by shears, labors at the mill. He has been robbed of his eyes and darkness has settled down upon him ; darkness, too, upon the people whom his momentary weakness had given back into slavery.
“Total eclipse!” Saint-Saëns has won our admiration for the solemn dignity with which he has invested the penitent confession of the blind hero. But who shall hymn the blindness of Manoah’s son after Milton and Handel ? From a crowd of captive Hebrews outside the prison walls come taunting accusations, mingled with supplications to God. We recognize again the national mood of the psalmody of the first act. The entire scene is finely conceived. It is dramatic in a lofty sense, for its action plays on the stage of the heart. Sam-son, contrite, humble, broken in spirit, with a prayer for his people’s deliverance, is led away to be made sport of in the temple of Dagon. There, before the statue of the god, grouped among the columns and before the altar the High Priest and the lords of the Philistines. Dalila, too, with maid-ens clad for the lascivious dance, and the multitude of Philistia. The women’s choral song to spring which charmed us in the first act is echoed by mixed voices. The ballet which follows is a prettily exotic one, with an introductory cadence marked by the Oriental scale, out of which the second dance melody is constructed a scale which has the peculiarity of an interval composed of three semitones, and which we know from the song of the priestesses in Verdi’s ” Aida.”
The High Priest makes mock of the Judge of Israel : Let him empty the wine cup and sing the praise of his vanquisher ! Dalila, in the pride of her triumph, tauntingly tells him how simulated love had been made to serve her gods, her hate, and her nation. Samson answers only in contrite prayer. Together in canonic imitation (the erudite form does not offend, but only gives dignity to the scene) priest and siren offer a libation on the altar of the Fish god.
The flames flash upward from the altar. Now a supreme act of insolent impiety ; Samson, too, shall sacrifice to Dagon. A boy is told to lead him where all can witness his humiliation. Samson feels that the time for retribution upon his enemies is come. He asks to be led between the marble pillars that support the roof of the temple. Priests and people, the traitress and her dancing women, the lords of the Philistines, the rout of banqueters and worshippers all hymn the praise of Dagon. A brief supplication to Israel’s God —
“And Samson took hold. of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand and of the other with his left.
“And Samson said, `Let me die with the Philistines.’ And he bowed himself with all his might : and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”