DAVID ET JONATHAS
music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier libretto by François de Paule Bretonneau.
Festival Theatre 13-29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT To 20 August 2012.
Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 20 August.
An exotic dish, if not to everyone’s taste.
Edinburgh International Festival’s performance of Les Arts Florissants’ early 17th century opera, David et Jonathas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier is by turns utterly baffling and utterly exquisite.
Writing in the mid-late 1600s, Charpentier, now regarded as one of France’s greatest composers was prolific but wrote only one opera, Médée (to be revived by ENO this autumn).
David et Jonathas was originally conceived as an accompaniment for one of the Latin tragedies presented as educational and moral tools by Paris’ leading Jesuit Collège Louis-Le-Grand.
A couple of years ago, Les Arts Florissants presented a stunning Dido and Aeneas in Paris conducted, as here, by its founder, William Christie and directed by Deborah Warner, with Fiona Shaw as a non singing narrator.
American-born Christie undoubtedly has an unparalleled feel for French Baroque music that so echoes both Lully, the then court favourite, and anticipates our own Purcell.
And musically, David and Jonathas doesn’t disappoint. Played on period instruments, under Christie, the sound is never less than mellifluous, spry yet reaching moments of pure, high toned individual beauty and pathos with rich choral ensembles.
If it’s the music that carries along this old Testament tale of Saul’s jealousy for his onetime favourite, David, and David’s friendship with his son, Jonathan, director Andreas Homoki’s staging sometimes threatens to render the story inscrutable.
Set in Paul Zoller’s wooden framed box with mechanical walls shortening and elongating perspectives as if creating snapshots, Homoki’s strange combination of modern realism mixed with domestic and public setting turns a piece that cries out for allegorical or metaphorical treatment at once pedantic and at times risible.
Pascal Charbonneau’s gorgeously sung tenor-voiced David wears woollen vest and jodhpurs, Neal Davies’ Saul braces and grubby shirt and tie whilst the opposing groups could be anywhere between Istanbul and Budapest.
Yet despite these bizarre choices, nothing can destroy the glory of Charpentier’s writing, or the mastery of the performers with Ana Quintans’s Jonathas, adhering to the operatic convention of cross-dressed heroes, outstanding, as is Dominique Visse’s counter-tenor, giving a master-class of taste and style as a prophetic Witch.
David: Pascal Charbonneau.
Jonathas: Ana Quintans.
Saül: Neal Davies.
Achis: Frédéric Caton.
Joabel: Kresimir Spicer.
Witch: Dominique Visse.
Samuel’s ghost: Pierre Bessière.
Warrior: Arnaud Richard.
Shepherds: Elodie Fonnard, Juliette Perret, Virginie Thomas.
Prisoners: Maud Gnidzaz, Rachel Redmond, Reinoud Van Mechelen.
Attendant to David: Reinoud Van Mechelen.
Attendant to Jonathas: Geoffroy Buffière.
Actors: Gabriel Di Giorgio (David as a child).
Stefano Sojae (Jonathas as a child).
Conductor: William Christie.
Director: Andreas Homoki.
Designer: Paul Zoller.
Lighting: Franck Evin.
Costumes: Gideon Davey.
Language coach: Anne Pichard
Assistant director: Gilles Rico
The score of David et Jonathas used in this production was edited by Jean Duron and published (1981) by Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
This productionwas part of Edinburgh International Festival 2012.
Sung in French with English supertitles.
A new production from Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, co-produced by Opéra-Comique, Paris and Théâtre de Caen.
Associate ensemble: Les Arts Florrisants with support from Selz Foundation.
Supported by Dunard Fund.