From the Old testament to the Paris Opera: Saint-Saëns's Samson Et Dalila and nineteenth-century french orientalism

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Publication Type thesis
School or College Musicology
Department School of Music
Creator Russell, Jessica
Title From the Old testament to the Paris Opera: Saint-Saëns's Samson Et Dalila and nineteenth-century french orientalism
Date 2017
Description Despite its successful premiere in Weimar in 1877, Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila met resistance as the composer attempted to stage the biblical story in France. When the work finally premiered in Paris in 1890, the opera directors exclaimed, "If we only knew!" In this thesis, I explore the aspects of the opera that led to its eventual success, as well as how it reflects the composer's cultural ideologies. The opera participates in the Orientalist discourse of the late nineteenth century, which can be heard and seen most obviously in the music and characterizations of the Philistines. Additionally, the opera features a femme fatale, a female archetype that increased in popularity in the nineteenth century. By reexamining what we know about the opera, we are better able to understand how the composer successfully transferred a biblical topic to the stage, and what the opera suggests about the culture for which he created it. First, I examine how two creative teams handled the biblical story prior to Saint-Saëns's: Handel's oratorio and Rameau and Voltaire's lost opera. By determining how these works balance sincerity, spectacle, and irony, I make a case for why the oratorio was one of Handel's most successful while censors continually rejected Voltaire's libretto on the same subject. While significant studies address the Orientalism featured in Saint-Saëns's opera, little attention has been paid to what the Hebrew's music conveys about the West. I argue that the music's religious topic demonstrates the perceived moral superiority of contemporary Europeans. Additionally, I explore the ways Saint-Saëns's also balances sincerity, spectacle, and irony in his portrayal of Samson as a prefiguration of Christ - a balance essential for an Old Testament hero during an anti-Semitic period. Finally, I examine the ways Dalila challenges and conforms to roles for women, "Orientals," and femmes fatales in nineteenth-century French Orientalist opera. Adhering to genre standards in each of these categories allowed for a positive reception of the character, while at the same time questioning those traditions. Most significantly, as Dalila challenges roles for "Orientals," she demonstrates the cultural Other's ability to subvert Western power and domination.
Type Text
Publisher University of Utah
Subject Gender; Nineteenth-century opera; Orientalism; Saint-Saëns; Samson et Dalila
Language eng
Rights Management (c) Jessica Russell
Format Medium application/pdf
ARK ark:/87278/s6m94f20
Setname ir_som
Date Created 2018-07-11
Date Modified 2018-08-01
ID 1347837
Reference URL https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6m94f20
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