For some time I've had a strange sort of mental block about this opera. I blame the over-exposure of "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix". I grew so tired of hearing the aria that I started to associate that indifference with the opera as a whole, though I'd never heard a note of it. Even when Grace Bumbry more or less cured me of my aversion to the aria, I didn't feel any more like hearing Samson et Dalila. This is all very silly, I know. At some level I know better than to behave like this but it can't be helped. And in any case I've redeemed myself somewhat, with a nice helping of Sunday afternoon revelations, courtesy of the Met broadcasts.
Yes, of course, it was broadcast last year too. I didn't give it a chance then, got as far as the beginning of the first chorus and decided to go and do something else: the only time in that whole season that I ever gave up on an opera. This time, however, I fought the urge to shut myself up in a room with Rosmonda d'Inghilterra (though I still need to do that again soon) and listened to Samson et Dalila. Thank god I did. Fabulous. Infinitely more exciting, more delectably colourful than, in the depths of my unfounded Saint-Saens complex, I ever imagined. Terribly good fun. This is what listening to Met broadcasts in my youth is supposed to be like. Délicieux. But an even more glorious revelation is Olga Borodina. Just as I was getting used to all the rather stony and solid tenor declamation - zing - there's Olga, and I swear I can hear that gorgeous fuchsia dress. I've heard Olga Borodina only once before, and very briefly: on a DVD sampler as Dalila, singing "Mon coeur". It didn't leave a lasting impression, though undeniably beautiful. This time around, hearing it in the context of the whole opera, in context of all the fire and seduction and general bad behaviour which comes before and after, the effect is wholly different. She was magnificent, terrifying. An imperious, no-nonsense kind of seductress. Obviously nobody could resist. I'm completely on her side, she's far more interesting than that stick-in-the-mud Samson. So all the more upsetting that Concert FM's recording started skipping just a few bars into "Printemps qui commence", quickly getting so unlistenable that they went straight to the first intermission feature. The rest of the broadcast was trouble free, thankfully enough...but to some extent I'm still hung up on what I did hear of "Printemps qui commence". Snatching her away when I was so enraptured I was quite willing to put up with any amount of skipping: not a nice thing to do to a girl. Acts Two and Three went some way towards compensating, however. A very long way, in fact. Especially as Clifton Forbis' Samson loosened up just the tiniest bit, still desperately virtuous but the voice a little softer around the edges: the perfect foil to Olga's blazing Dalila. And my previous ignorance of the opera gave me one very pleasant advantage: I had absolutely no idea that high B "Lâche!" was coming. Can you imagine? Incredible. And her low notes just as thrilling, and indeed everything in between as well, the whole voice blended seamlessly top to bottom, gorgeously rich and really just too marvellous for words. The power of diva: so captivated was I that I sat cross-legged for all of Act Two, only realising when Peter Allen broke in on my reverie that I was, in fact, painfully uncomfortable. Times like this I wish I had the technology to record these broadcasts. She's still ringing in my ears, but it's only Monday and inevitably she'll fade. There's the DVD, I know, and the recording with José Cura et al, and I'll let them wrap their tendrils about me in due course - but neither is quite the same thing. Never mind. At least I've had my Olga experience. Shan't soon forget it. Magic.