45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2000
This production (one of the only - if not the only available on VHS at the present) would warrant five stars considering Domingo and Verrett's performances alone.
However, there are times in this performance when the SF Opera Chorus' performance is sloppy....I think mostly due to Maestro Rudel's EXTREMELY fast tempi (particularly in Act 1) which defy musical common sense and at times actually destroy the beauty of Saint Saens' gorgeous choral writing.
One can only wonder - since this production was filmed for "Great Performances" in 1981 - if the maestro was under pressure from the PBS network to bring the length of the show in at under 120 minutes. There are also several short "cuts" in the chorus parts to make Act 3 shorter...which is disturbing if you know the show by heart.
The tempi "settle down" in Act 2 allowing Shirley Verrett to shine. BRAVA!
Domingo is powerful throughout and is especially Brilliant in the beginning of Act 3 - the scene at the millstone. Add this video to your collection for this 8 minutes sequence alone! BRAVO!
I would love to see this released in a letterbox "widescreen" version so you could see more of the beautiful sets, costumes and the stunning SIZE of this show....rather than the constant camera framing of the principals. Still, the sound is good quality and picture is clear in this presentation.
1981 seems like a long time ago. While the performances by the principals is fantastic, other artistic considerations leave something to be desired from this production. San Fransisco Opera is such a fantastic opera house today with such a fine chorus that I can't help but feel that a new production of one of my favorite operas -available on VHS/DVD - is overdue.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2006
Here is a wonderful performance of Samson. It was filmed in London not more than a year after the rival dvd from Sanfransisco. The production by Elijah Moshinsky is marvelous in it's subtle details which bring the story to life. The sets & costumes by Sir Sidney Nolan are a beautiful fusion of African and Far Eastern art notwithstanding some bizzarely expressionistic front curtains before each act. Don' be put off by them. The cast is uniformly excellent. Verrett, one of the most dramatically beautiful women to ever walk the stage is a supreme Delilah. Her singing is ravishing and she infuses the character with so many subtle touches that show she has really thought out the role. She must have worked very well with the director because it is all the small touches that bring her performance to life. For example, I love the way she conveys a woman voicing her thoughts out loud and discovering her feelings at the same time during the Act 2 duet with the High Priest. Verrett is also in the SanFransico dvd but she is that much more engaged with her role in this performance. She is also more flatterinlgy costumed in this version. Vickers is somewhat les of an actor than Verrett but Samson was one of his finest roles and his sheer force of nature tone and personality are more suited to the role of Samson than the otherwise wonderful Domingo in both other versions on dvd. Jonathan Summers is, I think, the more convincing of the High Priest's than either Wolfgang Brendl or Sergei Leiferkus although to be fair Leiferkus makes the High Preist seem more spooky. Summers' singing is marvellously firm in what is one of those baritone shouting roles like Don Pizzaro in Fidelio. Gwynne Howell is also the better of the singers portraying the Old Hebrew. He looks more convincing as an old man and he has the most velvety sounding voice of the three competing singers. My only reservation about this performance is the staging and setting for the Final scene. The Bacchanale is staged quite wonderfully as an outdoor fertility ritual involving blood sacrifice. Very well done and very convincing. In the rival SanFransisco version the ballet is staged as a wonderful temple orgy in a truly magnificent, steamy looking, pagan temple. The taunting of Samson in the temple is truly scary in it's brutality in the London version but it is negated by the unconvincing destruction of the temple by Samson. It mostly doesn't work because of the outdoor setting that the director & designer decided on so that when the collumns collapse It is unlikely that anyone would get hurt. In the rival Sanfransisco version we are treated to the most gloriously cinematic staging of the destruction of the temple. It still sends shivers down my spine 20 odd years later. That alone is worth the price of that dvd. The Covent Garden Orchestra and Chorus respond excellently to Davis's masterly acount of the score somewhat surpassing the SanFransisco group under Rudel. The picture and sound of this dvd are as good as one could expect from a television recording that is over 25 years old. All in all, if you can afford only one dvd of Samson this really is the one to have.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2002
I've loved this opera for many years and purchased this on VHS and laser disc. I agree with the other reviewer as to the cast being superb but the chorus and conducting under par and perhaps because it was broadcast on PBS. Those were the days when you could see an opera on PBS! Domingo and Verrett are magnificent and since there aren't alot of productions to choose from, this is certainly worth the price to add to your collection.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2008
I've never thought that I could witness such a powerful and commanding performance till the day I've watched this dvd. I must admit that I've ordered this dvd for Verrett because I wasn't expecting Vickers to sound as powerful as in his thrilling 1963 samson recording with rita gorr on emi. but I was so wrong!
He's singing here with a terrifying power and in a complete trance that makes you think that he's truly a demi-god like samson. Even Madame Verrett who in san francisco production had dominated the stage in every scene she was in, is a bit shadowed by Vickers' divine aura. And I didn't like her short hair either. She was much more vibrant, agresive, glamorous in san francisco and so was the production. the rest of the covent garden cast isn't very strong. especially Summers' voice compared to brendel at san fran. is quite weak.
the recent met production (from dg) has only one advantage, better sound and picture quality. but these two other versions are fairly well presented as well.
in short, if you like to watch a legendary samson accompanied by a legendary dalila and a great orchestra (davis surpasses levine and rudel)
buy this one. If you want a glamourous hollywood like production dominated by Verrett's unsurpassed Dalila and a great but not legendary samson (domingo) with superb cast and choir and orchestra buy the san fran. version.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2006
I had seen this production years ago on PBS and its every bit as fantastic as I remember it. Placido Domingo was still at his vocal best here, which was not the case with his farewell performance in Samson et Dalila with the Metropolitan Opera. Some people see opera purely in terms of the singers. I see opera as a total package, singers, costumes and sets. I feel cheated when I pay good money and get stylized sets..or no sets at all. This production has all of the aforementioned characteristics. I only wished the film crew had pulled back a little further during many of the scenes so one could really enjoy the full effect of the production. If you go for opulent sets and costumes, check out the Metropolitan Opera production of Turandot with Domingo and Marton. I never really cared for that opera until I saw the Met's production and now I love it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2008
I have read with disbelief some of the negative reviews of this opera. I can tell you with honesty that this is one of my favorite videos. Domingo sings fabulously well, and Verrett sings, and looks, like a goddess. (Actually, Domingo looks pretty good, too.) And the baritone, Wolfgang Brendel, has a strong, ringing baritone that can't be beat! I found the chorus to be excellent, and the scenery and costumes wonderful, especially for a house of the size of the San Francisco Opera. Even the subtitles are easy to read. And, of course, the music is very beautiful. This is as close to perfection as you are ever going to find.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2013
Potential buyers should take a careful look at these reviews. For some reason, they are an indiscriminate mixture of reviews of two different performances. If you order expecting the great Vickers and get Domingo, you'll have little reason to be glad about it. Sure, Domingo was/is a fine artist, but not in all repertory. Many of his roles were much better suited to either Vickers or Corelli, and in the case of Samson, Vickers was the man.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2009
As someone who always looks at the principle singers first in an opera, this production is a dream. While it's true that some of Rudel's conducting and some of the choruses are slightly objectionable, you simply can't beat the lead trio.
First of all, Shirley Verrett (La Nera Callas) is simply astonishing in this role, one of her finest. She has the perfect Italianate sound for Dalila from top to bottom. Her French diction is excellent, and her phrasing perfectly suites the French style of the work. I find her in fresher voice than in the later London production with Vickers, and her acting is far superior in this production as well. Her costumes and wigs are always flattering and help her get into Dalila's skin, and this manifests itself magnificently.
Domingo, though not my favorite tenor, is again consistent in his singing and characterization. He handles the French quite well and is quite believable as Dalila's helpless victim. His solo scene is very moving, as is his performance in the final scene. Brendel is also quite convincing. I find his baritone much smoother and better suited to the High Priest than Summers' in the London production, and his characterization is quite good throughout.
Overall, this is a gorgeous and impressive production of a superb (though overlooked), very French opera. Verrett is simply sublime, and the rest of the production follows her example. Highly recommended over all other recordings and DVDs of this opera (and I've heard/seen 'em all!).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2013
It's hard to find this opera on DVD, which is a shame since the music is magnificent and the story offers many opportunities for enterprising directors and producers - not to mention vocalists. So one has to bear in mind that anyone looking for a better version of this will find slim pickings indeed.
This one has some very good points. Shirley Verrett is the best of them, as a subtle but daring Dalila with the come-hither in her eye (and voice, and movements). The orchestra keeps up a spirited tempo without rushing. The dancing for the Bacchanale is superb, with costumes then and in other scenes reminiscent of African tribal costumes. And Jonathan Summers is a suitably menacing High Priest. But Verrett by herself would make this worth watching.
So much for the good. Now the bad news: Jon Vickers has a voice you could grate carrots on. And in many good moments he manages the mobility and vitality appropriate to Samson, but for the most part he lumbers around the stage with occasional pauses to declaim a few bars. I don't know if his rasping was a factor of the recording - certainly Verrett and Summers don't sound scratchy - but they seriously detract from the overall quality.
The staging likewise is a mix. The director decided to drench everything in crimson, which gets old fast, and when Samson pulls down two massive but freestanding pillars at the end, it's plain that the rest of the temple was in no danger whatsoever. However, the scene at Dalila's house is very well done, as is the "taunting" near the end of Act III.
Overall, I'd say this is a passable version of a scarce opera - better than passable, when Verrett is onstage. I haven't seen the Domingo production, so I can't compare the two.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2013
Beware as another reviewer has already mentioned, Amazon.com isn't allowing one to write separate reviews for the 2 different performances (Vickers,Verrett, Davis. Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and Domingo,Verrett, Rudel, San Francisco Opera) of this opera. So I've decided to review both at the same time. I wish the Kultur label would remaster their operas into 5.1 surround sound Dolby Digital or DTS. That way the music would have more presence and the video would be crisper/sharper. Jon Vickers, who is my favorite helden tenor, sounded like he was straining to reach some of the high notes in the Covent Garden Opera performance of the opera. Shirley Verrett's singing and acting was spot on and the orchestra played with great feeling and moved the drama along. The Covent Garden performance overall was very sensual (e.g.the sexually graphic baccanale scene). In the San Francisco Opera performance Placido Domingo sung flawlessly, but his Samson wasn't as believeable as Jon Vickers'. Shirley Verrett's singing and acting was again spot on. I disagee with the reviewer who wrote that Julius Rudel and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra raced through the opera. I felt the tempi were just fine. The costumes of the Israelites and Philistines made one feel like one was watching the Munchkins of the Wizard of Oz or characters from Star Trek. Samson pulling down the columns of the Philistine temple in the final scene of the opera was very spectacular!