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The Story of 'Samson and Dalila'

ACT ONE: The opera begins in a public square in Gaza, before the temple of Dagon, at night. A crowd of Hebrew slaves prays for deliverance from the tyranny of their captors, the Philistines. Samson alone does not despair and he tells his people to have faith. God has spoken to him, he says, and the Hebrews must take up arms agains the Philistines.

Abimelech, the ruler of Gaza, orders the Hebrews to be quiet. His god Dagon, he says, is superior to their god. But Samson has inspired the Hebrews, and they band together in defiance. Abimelech raises his sword against Samson, who grabs it and kills him.

Then the High Priest of Dagon enters and curses the Hebrews as they scatter. Though he orders his men to attack them, they are suddenly frozen in terror. Reports start coming that Samson and the Hebrews are destroying the harvest in the fields. The High Priest vows to crush them, and hints that he will use an unconventional weapon to overcome Samson's fabled strength.

Dawn breaks as the Hebrews offer a prayer of thanks to God. Dalila comes down the steps of the temple and speaks silkily to Samson. She invites him to a private meeting in her home. Struck by her charms, Samson feels powerfully drawn to her. But an old Hebrew man warns him to stay away, for his own good.

ACT TWO: Dalila is at home, in the Valley of Sorek, waiting for Samson. The High Priest enters and enlists her help in delivering Samson into the hands of the Philistines. If she does, they'll then have an easy victory over the Hebrews. At first he offers her gold, but she refuses. She wants to defeat Samson on her own, she says, driven by her hatred of him and her devotion to the gods.

Lightning flashes as Samson approaches. He tells Dalila that he has come to say a last goodbye; he must leave to lead his people. But he is no match for the seductive Dalila. In an intensely erotic duet, she continues to entice him, while his defenses slowly break down. Finally, when he refuses to reveal the secret of his strength, she storms into her house, leaving him outside. He hesitates, but then follows her inside. When Dalila gives the signal, Philistine soldiers rush into the house to take Samson prisoner.

ACT THREE: The imprisoned Samson is a changed man. Blinded, and shorn of his hair, he prays for the deliverance of his people.

In the temple, the Philistines are preparing a sacrifice to thank Dagon for their victory. They then celebrate with a bacchanale — this famous orchestral passage is often excerpted on concert programs. Samson is brought in so all the Philistines can mock him. Dalila tells him she never loved him, she only wanted to see his defeat. The High Priest tells a boy to lead Samson to the center of the temple. Samson whispers to the boy to place him squarely between two pillars. He then prays to God to give him one final burst of strength. As the Bacchanale reaches a climax, Samson pushes against the pillars with all his might, and the entire temple comes crashing down on everyone. Samson has his vengeance as the opera ends.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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