© Robbie Jack/Corbis

“Serve us with your power! … Sell me your slave Samson!” the Philistine high priest (played by baritone Gregory Yurisich) coaxes Delilah (played by mezzo-soprano Markella Hatziano) to betray her lover in a 1996 Royal Opera (London) production of Saint-Saëns’s masterpiece. The opera makes for a stirring adaptation, although it often departs from the biblical story. In Judges 16:5, for example, it is not a priest of the deity Dagon that approaches Delilah but the “lords of the Philistines”—that is, Philistine political leaders. It is one of many ways in which Saint-Saëns turned the strife between Israelites and Philistines into an epic of competing religions. The composer also clarified Delilah’s motives. In the Bible she appears to betray Samson for the “eleven hundred pieces of silver” (Judges 16:5) the lords offer her; but in the opera, she does it for her burning hatred of Samson and his God: “What matters your gold to Delilah?” she replies after the high priest offers her riches. “And what could a whole treasure matter if I was not dreaming of vengeance?”