In Saint-Saëns' opera, the audience never actually witnesses the prodigious physical strength of Samson, nor do they see the famous scene where the Philistines cut his hair. The composer focuses less on the most familiar aspects of the legend to concentrate on the interstices: specifically, Samson’s inner conflict, torn as he is between his love for a woman and his role as the spiritual leader of an entire people.
Is Dalila guilty of betraying Samson? I try not to make a moral judgement which would risk undermining my interpretation of the work. Dalila is a complex character. She is not driven by cupidity: she refuses the gold which the High Priest offers in exchange for her complicity. She evokes the past: Samson is the only man to have rejected her – on three occasions – and he continues to resist her by refusing to reveal the source of his strength to her...
The love duet between Samson and Dalila is truly moving. Samson is prepared to go back on his word and forget who he is. In my production, instead of revealing his secret, he ends up cutting a lock of his own hair, deliberately renouncing his power and his status as leader. When Dalila understands this, something changes in her. She becomes even more ambiguous.
The last protagonist in the drama – no doubt the most important – is, of course, the community. I chose not to pigeonhole the Israelites, preferring to define them by their condition: slaves. They are an oppressed people. I have chosen to deal with the Israelites and the Philistines in a resolutely contemporary setting to ensure that the legend is more connected to our reality and our emotions. All the same, during the Bacchanal, as if in a leap back in time, the Philistines dress up in peplum costumes. In so doing the crowd embodies a corrupt society—a society which extols strength and wisdom, even though it is built upon violence and humiliation, just like in the arenas of ancient times where gladiators were killed and their blood spilt to entertain the public.