CULTURE

Biblical opera returns after a long absence

Camille Saint-Saens’s opera «Samson et Dalila,» last produced in Greece in 1961, returns to the stage this summer, with four performances at the Herod Atticus Theater. A Greek National Opera production for the Athens Festival, the opera premieres tonight, with additional performances on June 15, 17 and 18. «This is a very powerful opera, by a very special composer,» said Loukas Karytinos, artistic director of the National Opera, at a recent press conference. «It presents one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible, pointing out the weakness of human character.» Saint-Saens initially intended to compose an oratorio based on the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, in 1867. He soon realized that the theme was ideal for an opera and started working intensely on that, even presenting it to audiences at home before drawing up its final version. The premiere of the completed opera took place in 1877 at Weimar, with the aid of Franz Liszt. Until then, the composer had come up against numerous negative reactions from both the public and the critics, who were very suspicious, not only about the use of a biblical theme on stage, but also about a woman seducing a man who was a symbol of his era. «I feel especially moved, because ‘Samson et Dalila’ was one of the first performances I watched at the Herod Atticus Theater as a child, with my father conducting,» said prominent director Spyros Evangelatos at the press conference. «There are some peculiarities about this opera, especially at the end when the temple of the Philistines collapses. That is very demanding for the directors and the stage designers, who have to come up not only with original ideas, but also with practical ones that can actually be carried out on stage.» Alternating with Victoria Maifatova in the role of Delilah is well-known soprano Markella Hadjiano. «It is one of the most important roles in my career. I am also very happy to be performing at the Herod Atticus Theater,» she said. Loukas Karytinos is the National Opera Orchestra’s conductor and the stage design and costumes are by Giorgos Patsas. Fani Palamidi is choir director and Olympia Gelodari is choreographer. Andre Cognet, Giuseppe Scorsin, Dimitris Kasioumis, Charis Tsoumos, Philippos Dellatolas and Costis Rasidakis will be interpreting the remaining parts. «Samson et Dalila,» at the Herod Atticus Theater, Dionysiou Areopagitou, Acropolis, tel 210.323.2771. Tickets can also be purchased at the Athens Festival Box Office, 39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.322.1459. For more information on the Athens Festival go to www.hellenicfestival.gr.