Samson & Delilah - April 2004

Roy Atterbury - Kentish Times April 2004

A Miraculous Biblical Tale

It is sometimes difficult to find the words that adequately describe the artistry and commitment of Kentish Opera.

Indeed, as each year passes, I find it increasingly difficult to believe that the company can continue raising its standards to such heights



Last week, the Churchill Theatre hosted the company's production of Samson & Delilah. Although the work was written by the distinguished French composer Saint-Saens using Ferdinand Lemaire's libretto, there is an enormous difference between holding the building blocks of an opera and actually taking it to the stage. It is here that the Kentish Opera's artistic director Sally Langford works miracles on a budget that would probably be little more than petty cash for some of the large opera companies. However, for this latest triumph (and it was a triumph) for the company, the budget encompassed a chorus of almost 60 singers together with 14 actors, acrobats and dancers with dancer Kate Sanderson, in particular, showing an agility and elegance that was inspirational.

Then there were Carol Stevenson's incredible costumes, Enid Strutt's atmospheric and often majestic sets that brought great temples to life, showed the luxurious home of Delilah and the darker aspects of life during the battles between the Hebrews and the Philistines.

Did all this 'extravagance' impact on the quality of the principal performers? Not at all.

English National Opera, Carl Rosa Opera, Glyndeboume, and English Touring Opera were just some of the credits that appeared in the cast biographies.

At the Wednesday performance, Samson was played by tenor Philip O'Brien and Delilah by mezzo soprano Gaynor Keeble. Their acting and singing were faultless and the six ovations they received at the close of the show were a fitting tribute to their performances.

For me, the short appearance by David Hodges as an old Hebrew came to an end far too quickly. The artist has one of the richest bass voices I have heard for a long time and I hope he will be invited to take on a bigger role in the future.


Indeed, this was an opera with several and deeply rich (but baritone) voices, including Michael Fitchew as the high priest and Gary Coward as Gaza's chief official.

For those that didn't know that the opera contains a famous orgy sequence, they missed one of the most sensual and colourful scenes I have ever seen on the Churchill Theatre stage.

Indeed, the biblical story of Samson and Delilah was staged with true creativity and artistry.

Peter Steptoe - The Croydon Advertiser - April 2004

Samson & Delilah

SAINT-SAENS originally wrote this as an oratorio but his librettist Ferdinand Lemaire persuaded him that it would be better staged as an opera. Kentish Opera confirms this view with a highly polished and dramatic performance.

Director Sally Langford seems to have no difficulty in manoeuvring a very large cast with deftness and aplomb. Her chorus has an articulation and feeling for the music that is a joy to listen to; act and react seems to be their watchword.

The composer's melodic music sweeps all before it and the tragic story of lust and betrayal holds us firmly in its grasp.

The opera opens in the public square in Gaza with the Hebrews in bondage to the Philistines. They are rallied by Samson who encourages them to break free. He killls the Satrap Abimelech and the Hebrews escape. The High Priest demands that they be destroyed and Delilah tells Samson that he has won her heart and he should visit her in the garden. This is evocatively· set out with effective lighting and with such temptations at hand who could blame Samson for sinning. The climactic storm combining with the fury of the music is extremely moving.

The finale which takes place in the Temple of Dagon, the Philistine God that is half man and fish, has terpsichore as a change from voice. This is excellently staged and demonstrates a Bacchanalian orgy and the humiliation of Samson. This only leaves the grand climax with him regaining his strength and tearing down the pillars of the temple.

David Newman is Samson, the part being shared on alternate evenings by Philip O'Brien. He has a fine voice which overcame a certain lack of inches. Louise Poole sings beautifully as the convincing, seductive temptress, Delilah; similarly sharing her part with Gaynor Keeble.

Hakan Vramsmo, a baritone of distinction, is the High Priest of Dagon again sharing with Michael Fitchew.

Gary Coward as Abimelech does not have much chance to show his art before being killed buy Paul Hodges (bass) as the Ancient Hebrew has a voice with the timbre of supreme mellifluence.

Conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald and his orchestra accompanied the singers with a warm urgency that filled the theatre with a magical insight.