Every now and then, when it has a glorious candidate for the role of Delilah, the Metropolitan Opera remounts Saint-Saens' creaky version of the Samson and Delilah story. With Shirley Verrett there is every reason to put the problematic piece on the stage, as they did last night in the Kennedy Center.
Certain problems remain: how do you stage the final scene in which Samson pulls down the temple? It looked ridiculous, and was not helped by poor timing that got Samson up there between the crucial pillars much too soon. Anyone in the place could have stopped him a dozen times before he finally brought the house down. The second act was ineptly managed, with Delilah's bed at the center of the stage permitting no hint of illusion or suspense at the critical moment when she gets Samson in there and shears him.
On the other hand, Zachary Solov gave the Met ballet its best choreography of the week and the bacchanal was worth all the prolonged applause it won.
Verrett is indeed reason enough for a revival of "Samson." Her voice is sultry and seductive and thrilling at the top. But she brings far more than beauty of voice. She is a voluptuous creature whose temptations would trap stronger men that Samson.
There was a new conductor, Neeme Jarvi, who will appear next week as guest conductor of the National Symphony's subscription concerts, in addition to the repeat of "Samson" next Saturday night. On the somewhat inconclusive evidence of this one opera, Jarvi takes music as he finds it. The first act moved at the leisurely pace Saint-Saens contrived, which tends to bore. The second act, all smoldering passion, was such more vital. The last act, despite Samson's long, drawnout moanings in the first scene, really took off once Jarvi hit the orgy.
Richard Cassilly sang Samson, offering a lovely pianissimo high B flat at the end of Delilah's big aria, but delivering most of the role in the troublesome nasal tone that has become his standard sound.
Louis Qualico was a superb High Priest, matching beauty of tone with fluent French enunication and elegant style. Morley Meredith's Abimilech and John Macurdy's old Hebrew were noteworthy, as were the Philistines of Timothy Jenkins, Robert Goodloe and Dana Talley. The chorus was excellent, the sets and costumes handsome enough, but the lighting was strangely static throughout.