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Behind the Scenes at 'Samson and Delilah'

February 19, 2013 10:09 a.m.

KPBS art reporter Beth Accomando talks with director Lesley Koenig about her production of "Samson and Delilah."

Related Story: Behind The Scenes: 'Samson And Delilah'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Opera can be a transformative experience. That’s what the San Diego Opera’s new production of Samson and Delilah aspires to do. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes us backstage .

Lesley Koenig had her life changed when she was 8-years-old and was taken backstage at the San Francisco Opera.

LESLEY KOENIG: I saw a rehearsal with work light, a piano in the pit, the singers were wearing their street clothes, the scenery was marked which means not all of it was there, and it was without any of its production values and I was completely and utterly enchanted. And it took me less than 10 minutes and I asked who was in charge and the person said the director and I said that’s what I’m going to be.

She had her first interview with the San Francisco Opera’s General director at age 10, was hired at 17, and staged her first opera at the Met when she was 23. Whew! Koenig made her San Diego Opera directorial debut in 1995. She returns this month to take on “Samson and Delilah,” and to bring her enthusiasm for opera to San Diego audiences.

LESLEY KOENIG: I think opera should be wildly entertaining in the sense that you get a chance to sit in a live theater with lots of people and experience something together.

At “Samson and Delilah,” you will experience something epic says Ian Campbell, General and Artistic Director of the San Diego Opera.

IAN CAMPBELL: The moment the curtain goes up you know where it’s set, you know that it’s grand, you know that Cecil B DeMille was involved.

RON ALLEN: It is indeed a Cecil B. DeMille production in every way shape and form. This set takes up the whole stage what you don’t see on stage is back stage being in storage and it’s huge there is no space to move at all.

Ron Allen is director of production. He says the challenge is moving enormous set pieces around in a very limited space.

RON ALLEN: We have 3 different scenes and they are moving all the time. There’s a 25 minute intermission to do the scene change even with 41 guys.

And it takes well planned choreography on the part of crew.

TAG: The San Diego Opera’s “Samson and Delilah” plays tonight and on the weekend at the San Diego Civic Theater. You can watch Beth’s behind the scenes video at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G.

RON ALLEN: It takes the rehearsal of the backstage people just as much as the people on stage to get a production correct.

For director Koenig getting the production correct also means making sure the small details get as much attention as the big ones.

LESLEY KOENIG: I really like telling the story, having the intimate moments on stage even in a scene with 120 people. The story comes first. I really like a clean visual aesthetic so we’ve cut lots of stuff out of it and pared the set down to the essentials.

For Koenig those essentials include a focus on the characters. So at the beginning of Act 3, the audience may look up in wonder at the huge grist mill on the stage but their emotions are drawn to the recently blinded Samson and his suffering.

Koenig adds, “That scene when he’s alone and he hears the voices of his people in his mind is just so stunning. Then the next thing you see in a scene change is 120 people onstage and a huge philistine bacchanal. And it’s really spectacular. So it’s a really great story and it’s exciting and it ends with the demise of a temple.”

The familiarity of the story of Samson and Delilah makes it a good first opera says Ian Campbell.

IAN CAMPBELL: It’s in the Bible, we all have some image of Samson and having his hair trimmed which makes him less potent so that he can be captured, blinded.

Then there is the famous ending in which Samson brings the temple down. That makes Ron Allen smile with unexpected delight.

RON ALLEN: The collapse is the best. There’s a lot of noise, there’s screaming, everything looks like it’s coming in on top people so it’s really pretty spectacular and quite fun. But what’s great about this is everybody dies at the end, that’s really unusual for opera, you usually get one or two but in this one you get everyone gets dead by the end of the thing because of the temple. It’s great.

The San Diego Opera’s “Samson and Delilah” brings the house down by mixing the epic and the intimate and delivering a memorable theater experience.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.