The Kennedy Center Handel Festival closed Saturday evening with a triumphant performance of "Samson." George Frederick Handel asked everything of the voice for the title role, and that is just what Nicolai Gedda gave: a tour de force of artistry and intelligence. Gedda's blind hero was a lesson in bel canto and a pure delight. From the difficult entrance, his was a seamless portrayal, with all dramatic intentions clear and all musical values served well. His "why does this God of Israel sleep?" climbed stentorian heights, in spite of a rare lapse of intonation. Samson's final adagio was almost whispered, floating a beautiful A natural at the close and leaving an impression of truly heroic deeds.

Mariana Paunova was a beautiful, controversial Micah. Her voice is a rainbow-colored mystery, opulent and exotic, veiled even when forced and full of that nasty Eastern European habit of not defining the boundaries of each note in coloratura passages. The Handel Festival Chorus, prepared by Norman Scribner, was, as always, the festival's gem. The cuts in score revealed a mistrust in the work on the part of director Stephen Simon, which inevitably led not only to some very awkaward harmonic and dramatic transitions, but also to curiously uninvolved conducting. The famous Dead March, for example, was just that. The way to win friends for Handel is not to cut his scores, but to perform beautifully. Which brings us to June Anderson.

The part of the Israelitish woman is very small: one aira with recitative; it is also one of the most incredibly difficult in the literature and can make a star. Such was the case Saturday night. A hush came over the audience as Anderson launched into the thrilling "Let the bright Seraphim," and the feeling was at once one of exhilaration and transfiguration. The young soprano filled the hall with the resonance of joy, displaying uncannily accurate runs and a daring abandon that comes from total vocal security. With the loudest ovation of the evening, June Anderson brought the Handel Festival to a glorious finale.