A musical prodigy, Saint-Saëns studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and upon graduation became the organist at the church of Saint-Merri, later holding the same post at La Madeleine (the official church of the French Empire). He was revered for his skills not only as an organist, but also as a virtuoso pianist, conductor, and composer. Among his most famous works are various symphonies and tone poems, five piano concerti, and a plethora of chamber music, including the sparkling Septet, Op. 65, for trumpet, string quintet, and piano.
His opera, Samson & Dalila, Op. 47 was written in 1877 to a libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire, and recounts the biblical story found in the book of Judges. Premiered in Weimar, the work gained huge international acclaim in the 1890s, with productions around the globe, including at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera House, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The aria ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ (often translated as ‘softly, awakes my heart’) is sung towards the end of Act II by Dalila (one of the great operatic mezzo-soprano roles), as she attempts to seduce Samson into revealing the secret of his strength. Its suave and elegant melody is underpinned by a sumptuous accompaniment that yields only in the second verse, where a descending chromatic passage depicts the serpentine deceit of Dalila’s actions, luring Samson to his ruin.