-Interview with Placido Domingo
The MET opening in 1998 with SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila on DVD - Plácido Domingo in another of his signature parts tries heroically to resist Olga Borodina's smoulderingly seductive Delilah. Sergei Leikerfus and René Pape co-star in a production with gorgeously evocative décor.
With the opening of the 1998 Metropolitan season Plácido Domingo was celebrating 30 years at the house and had also equalled the record of 17 consecutive Met opening nights set by Caruso back at the beginning of the century. He was portraying Saint-Saëns's flawed and tortured hero in a production of Samson et Dalila planned around his commanding interpretation.
Amid the flurry of tributes that crowned the evening, a visibly moved Domingo paid tribute to his Dalila, Olga Borodina. Domingo and Borodina have specialized in the roles of Samson and Dalila, and Domingo has spoken of the purely vocal enjoyment he derives from the part. Reviews at the time made much of the beauty of the singing of the principals, the New York Times commenting on Borodina's "musical elegance, fineness of diction and absence of excess", and describing the Spanish tenor's Samson as "at once reckless in its flat-out devotion and skilfully managed", the very definition of a Domingo performance.
When Elijah Moshinsky's production was unveiled, the sheer bravura of the designs by his collaboratorRichard Hudson had inspired most comment in the press. Boldly abstract and allusive, with monochrome shades for the Hebrews and lurid reds and oranges for the Philistines, they give the impression of a subtle shift of location to somewhere vaguely African (Hudson had recently worked on the designs for the stage version of The Lion King) in the pure blue backdrop of Dalila's first appearance, or the intimidatingly spiked towers that dominate the scene in the Valley of Sorek.
While Matisse was clearly a specific visual reference, primitive emotions were the key to Moshinsky's understanding of the opera as a whole. The famous Bacchanale in the third act becomes something of an initiation or fertility rite in Graeme Murphy's choreography, as the dancers cover their bodies with the white hand-prints already seen on Abimelech in his fight to the death with Samson.
Of the previous season's supporting cast, Sergei Leiferkus repeated his malevolent High Priest, while René Pape took over memorably as the Old Hebrew, and James Levine replaced Leonard Slatkin on the podium to lead a swift-paced account of the score. This particular evening, however, belonged to Domingo, as all present acknowledged, from the Met dignitaries and the mayor of New York, to the crowds in the auditorium and the massed singers and dancers on stage, showering ovations on this heroic achiever of the opera world.