Opera Scotland

Samson and Delilah 1895Glasgow Choral Union

Read more about the opera Samson et Dalila

Operas based on themes that were even loosely based on the Bible were, until the twentieth century, essentially from the opera house in Britain.  Such works had, since Handel's day, been performed in the style of an oratorio.  Here a ballet is included in the first act.   Dance has a vitally important role in the last - a Bacchanale as the Philistines await their doom.  It is not an ideal piece to be given in concert. Nevertheless, this quasi-religious work took a long time to gain acceptance in Britain.  It had only been given in London in 1893, and that was also in concert form, even at Covent Garden.

The barrier to stage performance was only broken down after the first appearance of Richard Strauss' Salome (Dresden 1905).  A battle against censorship happened, with Salome only appearing on the  Covent Garden stage in 1910.  Samson and Delilah had got there the previous year.

Once it had been staged in the provinces, in 1910, both Moody-Manners and Carl Rosa found it became universally popular.  However in Glasgow in 1895 it was not universally liked.


Glasgow Press Comment

The Glasgow Herald of the following morning, Wednesday, 18 December, was sometimes scathing:

'The production of Saint-Saëns' Biblical opera Samson and Delilah, did not attract a very large audience to the sixth classical concert of the Choral and Orchestral Union in St Andrew's Hall last evening.  Consequently, the time and money expended on the work may be taken to a large extent to have been thrown away. It is not possible to deplore that circumstance very heartily.  The selection of this opera for study showed neither true love of art nor commercial shrewdness in the selectors.

'As a rule it is only the argument of the 'Treasury' that justifies the performance of operas outside a theatre, and one fails to discover either in the history of Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah or in the content of the opera itself any very potent reason for believing that it would be either an artistic success or a safe speculation in the concert-room.  Mr Bradley made an attempt in his analysis to disarm criticism of his and his coadjutors' choice.  The reception which the opera had is a sufficient answer to his minor arguments.

'One could imagine that the opera would play well.  There is a sufficiency of action in it, as well as great scope for gorgeous and varied spectacular effects.  It is well constructed on a sort of Wagnerian plan, with leading motives and so forth - according to some it was a pioneer in this regard in France - and it contains some good solo writing and a considerable proportion of richly-coloured ballet music.  It is, however, so ineffective in the concert hall that there is not much difficulty in comprehending the long 15 years' neglect it suffered in the land of its birth, or the failure of Mr Farley Sinkins' performance at the London Promenade Concerts - a failure that was perhaps too readily ascribed to a defective performance.'


If Katharine Fisk was an unknown quantity as Dalila, the Canadian E C Hedmondt, with a long career divided between Britain and Germany, was a welcome and very familiar guest.  The Scottish bass-baritone Andrew Black, who didn't really do staged opera, was steadily building an excellent reputation as a concert performer.  This would soon see him tackling new parts in Elgar's oratorios.

The leading American baritone David Bispham was a frequent visitor to Covent Garden as well as the Met, and had recently been the first Falstaff in Scotland.  These two short but contrasting parts were rather different vehicles to show off his talent.

Performance Cast


Charles Hedmondt

Abimelech Satrap of Gaza

David Bispham

High Priest of Dagon

Andrew Black

Hebrew Elder

David Bispham

Dalila a Philistine priestess

Katharine Fisk

Performance DatesSamson and Delilah 1895

Map List

St Andrew's Hall | Glasgow

17 Dec, 19.30

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