OP3230. SAMSON ET DALILA, Live Performance, 13 Dec., 1941, w.Pelletier, Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; René Maison, Risë Stevens, Leonard Warren, Nicola Moscona, Norman Cordon & Emery Darcy, replete with Milton Cross' commentaries; SAMSON ET DALILA, Act II, scene 3 (complete); Act III, Mill Scene. Piero Coppola, Cond. Marie Duchêne & César Vezzani – recorded 1931. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1084, accompanied by Elaborate 24pp. Booklet with photos & notes by Henry Fogel, London Green & Richard Caniell. Transfers by Richard Caniell. - 019962793516
“A new release on the Immortal Performances is billed as a ‘World Premiere’ issue of a December 13, 1941 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of SAMSON ET DALILA. According to producer Richard Caniell, NBC’s transcription of the broadcast has long been assumed lost or destroyed. However, Wilfrid Pelletier, the conductor of the broadcast, often arranged for private transcriptions of his performances. I assume it is the Pelletier transcription that serves as the source for the new Immortal Performances issue. We are indeed fortunate that Pelletier had the foresight to preserve this SAMSON broadcast, for it documents an outstanding performance by a first-rate cast. The Belgian tenor René Maison sang at the Met from 1936 to 1943, specializing for the most part in German and French repertoire. Maison, a singer with a commanding stage presence, heroic voice, and idiomatic grasp of the French language and repertoire, was well equipped to undertake the role of Samson, the tragic Biblical hero….Maison is in fine voice throughout the broadcast. In his entrance scene, Maison often seems tempted to rush ahead of Pelletier’s beat. But from then on, the tenor and conductor achieve a meeting of the minds. In the pivotal act II confrontation with Dalila, Maison proves himself an intense and committed actor, as well as a sensitive musician, willing to explore a wide range of dynamics and vocal colors. Here, and in the act III Mill Scene, Maison creates an intensely moving portrait of a man tortured by his love for Dalila, with the inevitable resulting fall from grace. Even after a full afternoon of heroic singing, Maison is able to summon his resources for Samson’s clarion plea to God at the opera’s conclusion. This is an important document of one of the Met’s valuable singers during the 1930s and 40s.
Risë Stevens had a long and illustrious career at the Met (1938–1961). Carmen was, of course, the American mezzo’s most famous and often-performed Met role, but Dalila was central to her repertoire as well. Risë Stevens first sang the role on December 6, 1940, with her final Met Dalila taking place on tour in Toronto on May 29, 1958. The role of Dalila, scored for mezzo-soprano, is often sung by artists with a rather matronly voice and stage presence, but on this occasion, Risë Stevens is in her youthful vocal prime. The timbre is most definitely that of a mezzo, and there is more than sufficient power when required. But Stevens’ voice brims with freshness and life, and the various registers are seamlessly blended. Stevens’ alluring vocal quality, at the service of her marvelously inflected and paced depiction of Dalila’s malevolent seduction of Samson, creates a totally convincing character. No suspension of disbelief required here! Like Risë Stevens, the great American baritone Leonard Warren made his Met debut in 1938. In the 1941 broadcast, Warren is in sterling voice, and sails with ease through the role of the High Priest. Warren’s glorious vocalism brings thrills enough, but he also throws himself into the role, relishing the Priest’s evil, vengeful, and decadent side. Norman Cordon and Nicola Moscona sing beautifully in the smaller roles of Abimélech, Satrap of Gaza, and the Old Hebrew. The French-Canadian conductor Wilfrid Pelletier, long a mainstay at the Met in French repertoire, is superb throughout. Pelletier revels in the colors of Saint-Saëns’ eclectic and atmospheric score. He also manages, without ever rushing, to create and maintain an unwavering forward momentum. Pelletier’s sculpting of the act II scene for Dalila and Samson is particularly masterful, as he unerringly builds the tension of the impending storm - both the meteorological one, and that enveloping the two lovers. Pelletier, the soloists, and the Met Chorus and Orchestra have a grand time in the delightfully overblown concluding Temple Scene, eliciting ecstatic cheers from the audience. The recorded sound is typical of broadcasts of the period, which is to say not the equal of contemporary studio recordings, but far more than adequate to enjoy the proceedings. In short, this 1941 Met SAMSON ET DALILA is in many ways a gem, and well worth hearing.
If the broadcast is a gem, then the supplementary material represents true gold. In September of 1931, the Corsican tenor César Vezzani and French contralto Marie Duchêne recorded extended excerpts from SAMSON ET DALILA for French HMV, including the Act II confrontation and Act III Mill Scene. Conductor Piero Coppola led the unnamed orchestra and chorus. The recorded sound is remarkable, with an extraordinary immediacy, detail, and color. And the performances are for the ages. Both Vezzani and Duchêne, in spectacular voice, were steeped in the glorious tradition of French Romantic operatic performance. The artists’ crystal-clear, idiomatic diction, seamless legato, dignified yet impassioned declamation, unerring sense of phrasing, and wealth of vocal colors are to be savored time and time again. Piero Coppola, a superb interpreter of French repertoire, is masterful as well in capturing the ebb and flow of Saint-Saëns’ score….
The CD booklet includes Henry Fogel’s eloquent, insightful, and enthusiastic appreciation of SAMSON ET DALILA and the various included performances, London Green’s commentary on the Vezzani-Duchêne excerpts and plot summary, artist bios and photos, and Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this release is worth its price for the amazing Vezzani-Duchêne recordings alone. But when you get a thrilling complete broadcast of the opera in the bargain, the set demands a most enthusiastic recommendation.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Sept./Oct., 2017