Opera Scotland

David et Jonathas David and Jonathan

Music

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (born Paris 1643; died Paris, 24 February 1704)

Text

Père François de Paule Bretonneau.

Source

Biblical (Kings I or Samuel I).

 

Premières

First Performance: Paris (Collège Louis-le-Grand), 25 February 1688.

First Performance in UK: London (Barbican Hall), 22 June 1988.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 17 August 2012.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Charpentier's operatic masterpiece is probably his final grand tragedy Médée, and his early one act Actéon is utterly delightful. Between them he composed David et Jonathas, certainly a lyric tragedy following the five act model established by Lully, but also a profoundly religious work, perhaps close to the Roman oratorios of Carissimi and his contemporaries. The religious content also means that it lacks the supposedly frivolous episodes of ballet and divertissement familiar in Lully's works. The plot is similar to that of Handel's great oratorio Saul, though Handel's librettist introduced a couple of female characters, varied and lively choruses, and the famous Dead March.

 

Main Characters

David, a shepherd (haute contre)

Jonathas, son of Saul (soprano)

Saul, King of Israel (bass)

Achis, King of the Philistines (bass)

Joabeth, Philistine General (tenor)

Ghost of Samuel (bass)

Pythonisse, the Witch of Endor (haute contre)

 

Plot Summary

After David, a shepherd boy, slays Goliath, champion of the Philistines, he is raised within King Saul's household and forms a deep friendship with young Jonathan. Saul gradually becomes suspicious of David's motivation, and suspects that he is planning a coup.  His furious attempt to kill David fails, and the youth escapes to join the Philistines.

As the opera commences, the Philistines greet David with enthusiasm. He is apprehensive, worrying that the conflict with the Israelites means he will be forced to fight against Jonathan. Achis, encouraged by David, tries to negotiate a truce with the Israelites. However, his general, Joabeth, is keen to resume hostilities and reinforces Saul's suspicion of David. While the peace lasts, David and his shepherds rejoice at his reunion with Jonathan. Saul tries to persuade Achis to have David executed, and when the Philistine refuses, Saul openly accuses David of treason. He now orders Jonathan to kill his friend and is further infuriated when his son refuses to obey. As David again flees, Joabeth is satisfied at the apparent success of his plan. Saul, meanwhile, fearing that God may disapprove of his actions, consults the Witch of Endor. She summons up the ghost of King Samuel, who tells Saul that he is about to lose everything.

David prays to God, conscious that the truce is collapsing. When Jonathan finds him they admit that their friendship must end. Alone, Jonathan is faced with a dilemma, either to abandon his friend or betray his father. As battle commences, he resolves to protect David. During the battle he is mortally wounded. Saul, driven to despair, tries to hunt David down. As the victory of the Philistines becomes clear, David is briefly reunited with Jonathan, who dies in his arms. Saul himself dies before he is able to gain his revenge. Achis proclaims David to be Saul's successor as King of Israel, though David is himself grief-stricken following Jonathan's death.

The Cast

Achis
 King of the Philistines
Attendant to David
 
Attendant to Jonathas
 
David
 a shepherd
First Prisoner
 
First Shepherd
 
Joabel
 a Philistine General
Jonathas
 son of Saül
Pythonisse
 the Witch of Endor
Samuel's ghost
 
Saül
 King of Israel
Second Prisoner
 
Second Shepherd
 
Third Prisoner
 
Third Shepherd
 
Warrior
 

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