David, Jonathan, King Saul in BAM: Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s opera “David et Jonathas”

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By Ann Tyller | April 20, 2013 6:13 pm

The original performance of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s opera “David et Jonathas” staged, in 1688 at the Jesuit college Louis-le-Grand in Paris consisted a series of musical interludes making part of a much longer program.

“David et Jonathas” is based on the biblical relationship between the young David (Pascal Charbonneau), the future king of Israel, and Jonathas (Jonathan) (Ana Quintans), the Israelite prince and son of King Saul. In the Books of Samuel the bond between these young men is never made explicit homosexual. But in the opera David and Jonathas are clearly in love, however chaste their relationship may be. “David et Jonathas” directed by Homoki is as much a love story as it is a pacifistic one.

The director Andreas Homoki sets the story some time in the early 20th century, somewhere in the Mediterranean region. We see settlers’ caps and fezzes, European suits and Arabic robes suggested that the Biblical wars of Israelites and Philistines were in some fashion being displaced onto the straightforward conflicts of Christianity and Muslims… or maybe something else depending on viewer’s experience.

The opera is staged as a series of the claustrophobic wood-lined interior, some kind of primitive dwelling with the simplest furnishing which was constantly played with.

The size and volume of this space changes radically in the course of the action, widening to anamorphic proportions, constantly going in and out. It’s the very appropriate in the scene of Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor. It was originally the opera’s prelude but in Andreas Homoki’s vision it transposed to follow the third act. In this staging, the witch appears to be Saul’s dead wife (sung by the high tenor Dominique Visse) is accompanied by multiple replicas of herself, all wearing the house dress worn by Saul’s wifefrom, and the original room itself becomes triple-rooms. Magnitude of this stresses drama of King Saul (Neal Davies).

No doubt that Charpentier’s opera “David et Jonathas” is a love story: when David is proclaimed the new king of Israel, but for him it’s no joy. All the new king managed to say is only that he has lost all that he loves.

This is indeed humane and powerful performance by the acclaimed Baroque ensemble Les Arts Florissants, splendidly conducted by William Christie.

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