Samson et Dalila, Royal Opera House, London

One opera that you can say with absolute confidence will always bring the house down is Samson et Dalila. No such luck with Elijah Moshinsky's frightful 23-year-old staging. It's high time the Royal Opera buried it with the Philistines. Its talking-point (and doubtless the reason for its conservation) has always been Sidney Nolan's designs. The Australian artist took his cues (not surprisingly) from primitive Aboriginal art - a gaudy succession of painted gauzes and tie-dyed raiments. It's a very orange show. The scenery, such as it is, now looks as though it has been hit by something above seven on the Richter scale. The children of Israel come at us with outstretched arms. "Deliver us from this débâcle," they seem to be saying. It's the show that time forgot.

If I were David Bintley, for instance, I would no longer wish to be held accountable for choreographing (if that's the word) the climactic orgy in the Temple of Dagon. Very Ali Baba. Is it possible we actually took this seriously back in 1981? I suppose back then the topless maidens were a distraction (I notice they've gone). Now the only real scandal is just how bad it is. At least the pulsing gyrations of Saint-Saëns's corny but vital bacchanal are in good hands. The young Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan - who made such an impact with Carmen at Glyndebourne two seasons back - is the best reason for braving this revival. His direction of the score is muscular and incisive, keen of rhythm and high on narrative drive. Heaven knows the staging needs all the help it can get in that regard. And when Saint-Saëns is at his most fragrant, Jordan is at his most attentive. The response he elicits from the Royal Opera violins in the soaring answering phrases of Dalila's entrance aria makes you fall in love with this score all over again.

So enter Dalila, in the voluptuous personage of Denyce Graves, who, if I'm not very much mistaken, is expecting a little Samson or Dalila (so a pregnant Dalila is acceptable at Covent Garden but not, it seems, a fat Ariadne - as Deborah Voigt recently found out to her cost). Graves has coveted this role in recent years, but the plummy tone and indomitable chest voice are now compromised by some bizarrely wayward intonation. It could be that her condition is affecting her support but sustaining pitch was definitely an issue on the first night. Then again, come the big number - "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" - she found security and rapture in the melody's soft embrace.

It has to be said that she and her Samson, José Cura, looked really comfortable with each other. The body language of their fateful tryst was the one great lie that the production made believable - her deceit, his desire. Cura looks great in the role - and he sounds pretty good, too. The swarthy complexion of the voice has always been his strong (to my mind his only) selling point. And that's what counts in this role - middle-voice masculinity. There really isn't much opportunity here for the kind of finessing that quickly finds Cura wanting. And there isn't much opportunity, either, for anyone but the title players to make much of an impression. Bruno Caproni did so as the High Priest of Dagon, and at least the chorus sounded impressive.

And so, finally, the pillars of the temple came toppling down. And what an anti-climax that was. For those of you who've never seen the show, it's also a terrible irony that the said pillars are not supporting anything in the first place. That just about sums it all up.

To 25 March (020-7304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there