Samson et Dalila is a grand opera in three acts by Camille Saint-Saëns to a French libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire. It was first performed at the Grossherzogliches (Grand Ducal) Theater in Weimar on December 2nd 1877 in a German translation.
The opera, based on the Biblical tale of Samson and Delilah, is the one opera by this French composer that is regularly performed. The second act, the love scene in Dalila's tent, is one of the set pieces that define French opera.
Saint-Saëns began composing the work as an oratorio in 1868, but his librettist, Ferdinand Lemaire, convinced him of its theatrical potential, and Liszt offered to produce it at Weimar, where he was musical director at the cosmopolitan, progressive and highly musical grand-ducal court. In France, the fact that the opera was composed of Biblical subject matter created resistance to its staging. Samson, in fact, wasn't heard in France until 1890, receiving its French premiere in the provincial city of Rouen. By that time, Pauline Viardot, who had championed the opera, for whom it was written, and to whom Saint-Saëns dedicated the score, was too old to sing Dalila. In London, the Lord Chamberlain kept Samson et Dalila from being staged, though it was presented as an oratorio, which was the form in which Saint-Saëns had first conceived it.
Dalila is one of the great roles for mezzo-soprano. Saint-Saëns dedicated it to Pauline Viardot, who organized a private performance of the music from Act II at her house in Paris, with Saint-Saëns at the piano, in the vain hope of interesting the director of the Opéra, though without avail. The selection "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" ("My heart opens to your voice") is a popular recital piece. Two of Dalila's arias are particularly well known: "Mon coeur s'ouvre � ta voix" and "Printemps qui commence."
The episode of Samson and Delilah comes from the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Judges, chapter 16. Like tales of his approximate contemporary Hercules, the violence and erotic extravagance of this folk hero, with its exotic color, reversal of patriarchal strength and catastrophic heroic end, all appealed especially to European Baroque artists of the 17th century.