Pam and Grant go to the opera


Is blogging the right place to review an opera? Probably not, but here goes.

Pam, my wife, came out of the Met’s Samson and Delilah and announced that it confused inspirations from Schindler’s List, Cirque du Soleil, and the Lion King.

I couldn’t do better than this, but I ended up making declarations of my own. Chiefly: you either treat Samson and Delilah as a tragedy or you commit a crime against the species.

Tragedies force us to accept the truth of two contradictory things. (I don’t think this is Aristotle’s definition, but it works for me.) In this case, Samson means to be a hero to his people and he loves Delilah to her core. Delilah? Ditto!

But the Met’s production takes pains to show us that there is no ambivalence in the protagonists. Delilah is merely a world-class manipulator and Samson, a guy who can’t keep his pants on.

Dommage, ca! These characters are not tragic. They’re just sad. And if they are sad, what does that say about the rest of us, pantless and manipulating as we so often are?

I hadn’t seen this before but tragedy is actually a pretty dignifying enterprise. I used to think it was intended to force us to reckon with the sheer intractability of the world. But in fact it is closer to a “get out of moral jail free” card. Tragic treatments say that we would surely do the right thing, if there weren’t another, contradictory, right thing in the way.

The Met’s production does not splay the tragedy card. Instead, it lavishes 2 hours, immense operatic talent, and all the visual potentials of the Met on a demonstration of how flawed and undignified the species is.

So it’s “two thumbs down.” Pam says the opera is conceptually and aesthetically muddled. I say it makes the species look bad. Hey, we could have just stayed home and watched the 6 o’clock news.