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Oratorio Society of New York – Samson, May 6, 2024
Photo credit: Brian Hatton

Concert Review: Oratorio Society of New York – Handel’s ‘Samson’

Samson was a hit for George Frideric Handel in 1743. Monday’s rousing performance by the Oratorio Society of New York (OSNY) showed that this behemoth of an oratorio can be so again.

Yet the region’s most oratorio-focused large chorus, which has presented Handel’s Messiah every holiday season for the past 150 years, hadn’t pulled down a Samson since 1948.

Beauty and Grandeur

The Carnegie Hall stage was jam-packed, with the 200-member OSNY chorus, the 35 or so members of the orchestra, and five soloists, all led with fervor and focus by conductor Kent Tritle. Shaking off a few nicks of orchestral imprecision in the opening Symfony (overture), the assembled company went on to deliver an often stunning performance of beauty and grandeur.

The vocal star of the first half was Nola Richardson, who infuses an effervescent soprano with seductive character work. She can manage this just as well on a grand stage in a formal performance setting, as here, as she can in an intimate gallery venue singing baroque English love songs.

The blinded, captive Samson is of course the hero. Tenor Lawrence Jones’s voice and characterization blossomed as the story progressed, embodying impressive technique and control (for example, in “Why does the God of Israel sleep?”), stark pathos (“Total eclipse”), and lyricism (“Thus when the sun from’s wat’ry bed”).

Dalila Agonistes

But the libretto by Newburgh Hamilton, following Milton’s Samson Agonistes, also offers a sympathetic portrait of the highly flawed Dalila (Delilah). This, Richardson’s main role in Samson, dominates Act I and the first part of Act II.

Richardson’s voice emerged silvery and celestial in her first appearance, in the small role of the Philistine Woman (“Ye men of Dagon”). She went on to heights of expressiveness as Dalila, imploring Samson to forgive her, and then, rebuffed, bringing a tear to my eye – part emotional response, part aesthetic joy – in “With plaintive notes and am’rous moan.”

Oratorio Society of New York – Samson, May 6, 2024
Photo credit: Brian Hatton

Micah, Samson’s extra-biblical friend, is the quasi-narrator and moral center of this version of the myth. Mezzo-soprano Mary Beth Nelson handled this understated but key role with superb dexterity and supple gravitas. Sidney Outlaw as Manoa, Samson’s father, has a rich, fluid baritone with a harmonic profile that resonated particularly powerfully in the heartfelt air “How willing my paternal love,” which ends with the beautiful sentiment “whilst I have eyes he wants no light.”

Baritone Joseph Beutel’s rich voice was well suited to the aggressive role of Samson’s antagonist, Harapha, a character that should have a rough kind of charisma. Chorus members Heather Lake and David Freides shone in small featured roles, the former as an absolutely lovely Dalila’s Echo in one of the oratorio’s few duets. And throughout, the chorus excelled, well balanced and dynamic under Tritle’s baton.

The conductor is known for fine technique as well as strong scholarship. Both informed this performance, never mind that it was the current membership’s first essay at Samson. Handel would have been proud.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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