Michael Kimmelman writes in The New York Times about a production of “Samson et Dalila” in Belgium that turns Samson into a Palestinian suicide bomber and the Philistines as Palestinians:
… Ordinarily, Saint-Saëns’s “Samson et Dalila” is a harmless, second-rate melodrama with a couple of crowd-pleasing numbers. It tells the biblical tale of the Hebrews under Philistine occupation in Gaza, who, thanks to Samson, rise up, only to be enslaved again after Dalila, Samson’s Philistine lover, betrays him.
The opera ends when the Philistines celebrate their victory in the pagan temple of Dagon by mocking Samson, now blinded and shorn of the hair that gave him his strength. He calls on God one last time to help him topple the pillars that bring the temple down on his enemies and himself.
Finding parables for today’s Middle East doesn’t take much imagination. Savvy directors don’t belabor the point. Mr. Nitzan and Mr. Zuabi, however, turn the Hebrews into Palestinians, the Philistines into Israelis, and Samson into a suicide bomber, donning a dynamite-loaded vest when the curtain falls.
That comes after Jews, in fancy dress, dance atop a shiny, black, two-tiered set, oblivious to the swarm of robed Palestinians under their feet. In another scene Dalila’s Jewish handmaidens, in red underpants, sprawl on their backs, legs spread in the air, helping to seduce Samson. Samson and Dalila court by pointing a pistol at each other. Young Israeli soldiers clad in black humiliate blindfolded Palestinians and shoot a Palestinian child, who reappears as a kind of leitmotif during the opera like the holy spear in “Parsifal.” Then, for the appalling bacchanal in the last act, a disaster in most productions, Israeli soldiers dance orgiastically with their phallic rifles.
That scene was too much even for the polite Belgian crowd on opening night. A smattering of boos sprinkled down on the dancers. Otherwise the performance, dully sung, received several rounds of generous applause. This is Western Europe. A similar production would be nearly unthinkable in New York or Washington. One presumes, had the opera been cast as a metaphor of Flemish-Walloon conflicts in Belgium, rather than Palestinian-Jewish, that the local reaction might have been different.
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