Not seen at Seattle Opera for nearly 60 years, ‘Samson and Delilah’ excites

opera review

When the Seattle Opera announced that “Samson and Delilah” would be performed in concert rather than the traditional staging, some opera fans were perplexed. Is it still an opera?

As audiences at Friday night’s opening show quickly discovered, the answer is a definite yes.

It was my first experience seeing an orchestra on stage far enough from the opening of the proscenium. Behind the orchestra, at the very back of the stage, held up by risers, was the chorus. It looked a little cramped and the stage was certainly full, but the concept worked well nonetheless.

Putting an orchestra on stage may sound strange sonically. Doesn’t the sound overwhelm the singer?But surprisingly, the orchestra on stage didn’t seem louder than the normal volume level of the orchestra his pit.

Concert or not, the production offered top-notch singing and acting, imaginative lighting (cheers to lighting designer Connie Yun), and a streamlined take on the classic. Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah has not been produced here since 1965. Even for die-hard opera purists, this current work is a happy revival of an opera of such musical beauty.

This is not just a “still opera”. It was an exciting opera, especially whenever Jinai Bridges (Delilah) took the stage. and she exceeded all expectations. Bridges’ rich, gorgeous voice rose high to her B-flat in the opera’s most famous aria, “Mon coeur s’ouvreàta voix,” lighting every line of her role. Beautiful and imposing, she proved a credible actor, convincing both as a cynical conspirator and a commanding seducer. Bridges looked gorgeous in her spectacular dress and jewelry (earrings!) and brought opera glasses across McCaw Hall with whiplash-inducing speed.What a star!

Her Samson, Younghoon Lee, proved to be a fervent tenor singer and a fervent actor with a powerful voice. His performance would have been more convincing had he not required the score’s frequent assistance later in the production (placed on a music stand and occasionally moved around as staging necessitated).

Greer Grimsley as High Priest gave a solid and authoritative performance. Grimsley has been singing in Seattle since 2005’s Wotan (Wagner’s Ring).

The Seattle Opera Chorus has a sophisticated sound, producing plenty of solid, well-tuned chorus sounds. Kudos to the choirmaster Mikaela Calzarretta.

An integral central figure in the production was former Seattle Symphony Orchestra Music Director and now Honorary Conductor Ludovic Morlot. Not only did he conduct the band in the dressing room, but he also made regular rounds to the dressing room to signal when the principal singers were needed. Morlot also had to balance his level of orchestral sound (enough but not overwhelming) with what he heard from the principal. It was a heroic task: well done.

“Samson and Delilah Concert”

Music by Camille Saint-Saëns. Starring J’Nai Bridges, Yonghoon Lee and Greer Grimsley, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The next performance is Sunday, January 22nd at 2pm. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. Tickets start at $62. 206-389-7676,

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