Promoting Historically-Inspired Performances of Early Music and Baroque Opera
David et Jonathas - Charpentier (2005 OAE Tour)
New York, 26 March: I went to Charpentier's David & Jonathas directed by Emmanuelle Haïm at Alice Tully Hall last night. It was superb, and I highly recommend that anyone in or near London attend tomorrow's performance. The opera will be repeated in Cuenca on April 9 and in Salzburg on April 11.
As in the recordings by Michel Corboz (Erato STU 71435 (2 LPs 1981)) and Willliam Christie (Harmonia Mundi HMA 1901289/90 (2 CDs 1988)), the skeletal surviving parts were filled out with other instruments, in each case a bit differently. In New York, the orchestra, led by Catherine Mackintosh, consisted of 7 violins, 6 violas, 2 cellos, 2 bass violins, percussion, 2 trumpets, 2 transverse flutes and piccolos, 1 recorder, 1 oboe & recorder, a second oboe, and a bassoon & bass recorder. The continuo section included Ms. Haïm (harpsichord), a second keyboard player, Yves Castagnet (harpsichord & organ), 2 theorbos (Elizabeth Kenny & William Carter), cello (Richard Tunnicliffe), and bass viol (Sarah Cunningham). Unlike the two recordings, both performed at a=415 before the widespread availability of 392 woodwinds, last night's version was performed at historical pitch of a=392.
Key roles were taken by Paul Agnew, haute-contre (David); Jaël Azzaretti, soprano (Jonathas); Laurent Naouri, bass (Saül); & Andrew Foster-Williams, bass (Achis). Members of the Choir of the OAE (7 women & 16 men) performed the smaller solo parts. The singing was excellent, with no obvious weaknesses. Paul Agnew in particular was superb in very high role of David, taken by falsettists on the higher-pitched recordings. This was his first appearance, having replaced Mark Padmore, who appeared as David in Brussels and Paris.
The complete list of performers is appended below. There were a couple of last minute changes: Daniel Auchincloss sang La Pythonisse, and a Berger replaced a scheduled Captif.
Dress was white tie, and there was no staging, allowing the singers to concentrate on the music. Handouts included a nicely printed libretto featuring a new translation by Graham Sadler, and a concise summary of the work by Peter Laki. Lights were left on over the auditorium making it possible to follow the libretto throughout.
Both temperature and humidity were moderate, so there were no tuning fiascos as sometimes occur here in the spring. A harpsichord may go a semitone sharp in an hour or less on the first humid day.
Emmanuelle Haïm presents quite a 17th Century appearance, with long, curly, dark red hair. She stood to direct the chorus and orchestra, then would abruptly sit at the harpsichord to accompany soloists, popping up again during ritornellos and choruses.
The orchestra performed with precision, as we have come to expect from Britain's finest. While air travel is the bane of natural brass players (one's lips swell at high altitude), the OAE's trumpeters, David Blackadder and Philip Bainbridge, maintained perfect control, even when they abruptly switched to instruments in a different key near the end of the opera. I noticed only one instance when performers were out of sync, and it lasted for just a couple of bars before the lutenists adjusted to the singers (Captifs) who had gotten ahead of the continuo.
Although the acts of David & Jonathas originally alternated with the acts of a spoken play in Latin (Saül), the opera easily stands on its own. The large booklet included with the Erato LP set and Catherine Cessac's biography of Charpentier include act-by-act summaries of the play.
Approximate timings were as follows: Prologue: 18 minutes; Act I: 27 minutes; Act II: 17 minutes; Intermission: 23 minutes; Act III: 17 minutes; Act IV: 21 minutes; Act V: 25 minutes.
Emmanuelle Haïm, Conductor
Characters of the Prologue
Characters of the Tragedy
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
CELLO / BASS VIOLIN
VIOLA DA GAMBA
FLUTE / PICCOLO
TIMPANI / PERCUSSION
HARPSICHORD / ORGAN
Choir of the Enlightenment