The dark art of seduction

When I first started listening to opera I got a list of all the well known mezzo arias and I dutifully went through all of it, picking an aria I enjoyed most musically and listening to many versions then moving on to the next.

After a while the time came to focus on Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix. The main difficulty with interpreting this aria seemed to be the fact that Dalila needs to sound perfectly seductive whilst she’s lying1. So the singer has to both lie and mean it. Then I thought maybe I’m too analytical and this kind of thinking does not work with opera, you can just (just, eh?) be very seductive and leave it at that.

Alas! At long length I found somebody who agrees with me and can explain it. That someone is Thomas Hampson:

It’s worth listening to the whole thing. He makes the great point of what breath is: not yet heard thought. Also the mezzo is very good, neither too lyrical nor too stentorial, just right for this and youthful sounding which might be the hardest thing with this role.

The exercise on this aria also brings up the level of inner exposure a singer is – or isn’t – confident expressing on stage. It’s surely easier to express madness than to express seduction, it’s not anywhere as in your face even when you’re singing a mad scene. I mean we might feel a bit uncomfortable seeing someone lose it on stage but I think we also feel empathy for them for being wronged or for whatever it is that brought them in that state. Seduction is another business altogether, because it’s someone’s deliberate decision.

Depending on how the singer pulls it off you might feel a mix of appreciation and competition (hey, she’s really good at it and on stage too! how did she get so good? what else is she up to?) or you might feel a bit embarrassed if the end result is not quite cutting it (I took time off my day to hear her sizzle and she’s merely warm). Or whatever you feel – but it’s never just oh well, that was quite nice.

It’s harder to separate hotness from the person singing than it is to separate madness. All you need to do to portray madness is get very intense and develop a good stare. The rest is in the music. We know you’re not really mad. Hotness is harder because not only you have to access that which will hypnotise the audience (yet which you are educated not to make use of in polite company) but you also have to be brave enough to deal with the puritanical residue in all of us.

With this aria there’s just no hiding behind singing all the notes in the right order – if you’re not accessing “hot” you’ve failed. If you are, you’re still singing the bad guy. Though, are you? I like Dalila, so I’m on her side. For all I care the opera can end after after she learns his secret. Obviously Hampson agrees:

(By contrast, I think Juditha is way heavy handed with Holofernes2. Ask me again when someone imagines Samson as a contralto.)

But you are singing the bad guy – the perpetrator – who distracts the hero from his heroic deeds, because that is the narrative we’ve all grown up with. So your success is always going to be met with mixed feelings (I like her yet I know I shouldn’t like her quite so much… because… because... = rationalisation time). Yet it’s so easy to like the hero with a clear conscience: behold, he erred but he corrected that error by sacrificing himself to the cause! Hurrah. Well, didn’t Dalila sacrifice herself to her cause? Anyway: it’s not easy feat pulling off a role like this but it’s very exciting when it happens.


  1. I suppose a case could be made that seduction = lying. Rather persuading, I’d say, compelling the other to see/feel from your perspective. But specifically what I mean is that in order to seduce you need to give/show a bit of yourself, you can’t seduce from a distance as is were. You need to be truthful in the same way in which you do offer fish actual food when you bait them. Let’s just not get into the ulterior motive issue for the moment… (who’s ever completely selfless?). 
  2. somebody needs to stage this scene as bondage. You know Holofernes wants Juditha to tie him to the bed 😀 then it’s just a matter of how sharp is the blade. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on June 14, 2016, in acting in opera, french opera, masterclasses, mezzos & contraltos and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. i did watch this.. and it reminded me a lot of VK’s clip in that documentary.. and the fact she was in it last year i think (?) in suuuuuper sexy clothes and indeed in the end she cut off Samson’s jewelries.. heavy duty seduction 😉
    (ps- crap, i was looking for that documentary.. seems channel is taken down.. and instead i found footage of this!)

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    • cool! but where’s Brian Large when you need him? They spent at least 30s of that clip filming from miles away! Gimme closeups.

      hehe, the jewelries… I thought it was the hair 😉 but I’m generally not very sympathetic of Samson so… I think you might have shown me pics or something from that production, one of those from pants to underpants things 😉

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      • who’s Brian Large? but i like the final zoom in showing her boots + jacket with nice collars!
        (i like the idea of a contralto Samson, then we can negotiate 😉 )

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        • he’s this video director who has filmed for DVD just about every other opera production ever (Salzburg Tito included) and one of his schticks is extreme close-ups. I’m actually partial to close-ups, I don’t mind if the singers sweat, I want to see their reactions every second.

          it’s not a bad outfit, I have a nice pic from that semi-staged Tito, I think it’s from the act I finale.

          well, yes, contralto Samson would change things a bit 😉

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          • speaking of dvd.. someone posted the equivalence of VK’s romeo in Munich staging, this time w/ JDD in Liceu just 2 wks ago, on Anik’s (under Orlando post i think), so you can actually see what it looks like when they turn the lights on for taping. the clothes are quite beautiful.. but again , close-ups really destroys the big-picture scenery.. for example you don’t get the feeling / effect of the stairs or the tomb properly… (and i miss VK 🙂 )

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            • thanks, I’ll drop by. The clothes… I still think those trousers didn’t fit any one of them (I think everybody but me likes that production hence why these other theatres bought it).

              yes, probably that production is not the kind that would work with close-ups. Now that you reminded me I think I’ll try to watch it again and write something (probaly unkind 😉 ) about it, since I haven’t listened to it in a long time.

              ps: I miss her too.

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              • i mean the colorful clothes of the people who didn’t sing 😉

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                • oh, I see! those are beautiful, you’re right. Actually that party scene might be the best thing in the whole production (except for the sink, but only when AN was involved 😉 )

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                  • and whatever he claimed he is (Lacroix) i think he didn’t know how to properly dress a woman in trousers . i don’t care about her shape, with the amount of money they’re paying him, he should have been talented enough to highlight their strengths (esp. VK who has LOTS of strengths!!)
                    (actually VK looked fine in the 1st trouser, she apparently got tired of moving around w/ the jacket so just took the whole thing off.. coz you can see everyone else wearing it (other mezzos) during the duet.. or even during entrance aria..)

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                    • these fashion designers only know how to work with size 0 models, have absolutely know clue how a regular woman looks like. I’m telling you from personal experience, you don’t get taught how to deal with shapes at all, everything you design is standard size, minimal boobs and no arse.

                      both VK and JDD are easy to dress for these roles so whoever screws it up it’s definitely their fault.

                      I imagine she got hot, I often wonder when I see singers bundled up under those lights, it must be very uncomfortable. I’m sad she got rid of the hat, though 😉 I love top hats!

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                    • the hat that only fits into size 0 head 😉

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                    • ps- unrelated.. in case you’d like to check out full A.Hallenberg in semiramide it’s here. i’ve decided it’s time to have fun w/ that duet again while they open the freezer.. i’m so surprised to hear (from her fb site) that her first major breakthrough role only took place in 2003 (!!) outside of Scandinavia when she “stood” in for C.Bartoli at the last minute singing Piacere in Zürich (singing from the pit it sounds like..– she posted about it on her fb last week).

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                    • thank you! It must’ve been weird to see Bartoli and hear a very different voice 😀 but she (AH) really rocks in that role. Maybe it’s because we came so late to the game but I have a feeling the whole baroque thing wasn’t so big 15 years ago.

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