Thursday, December 4, 2008


Last night’s Pinchgut Opera production of Charpentier’s David and Jonathan was fantastic.

The bush fire was under control, K had received some good business news, and as “those coming to this kind of music for the first time”, any reservations we might have had were soon washed away in glorious music and glorious voice. A few things had conspired to get us there at last: the increasing public awareness of the rarity and excellence of the productions, some recent things I had read about Antony Walker in the USA, an interest in the story of the opera and about the opera, and an interest in all things French.

(photo sarah puttock, via opera critic)

The hall was even better than I remember for acoustic immediacy. We sat front on level 3 and it was hard to imagine there was anywhere better. The sound was wonderful. Our seat neighbours, Pinchgut regulars, speculated about amplification. The programme notes said clearly mikes were for recording only. The look of the set was Paris circa whenever, war ravaged, and if anything too cluttered, and one noisy ramp in and out, too noisy for a live recording I would have thought, all presided over by a large Caravaggio David and Goliath, and a few chandeliers. But the floor – no French aristocracy would have a terracotta floor like that, unless perhaps sous-sol.

“Make the music the main element of the production, with the set, costumes and the rest there to support the music, not to swamp it” says the about-the-company notes. Well, while I shouldn’t really comment, this being the first time, I did wonder if this mission may be being left behind. There’s no doubt that the music was what they, and we, were there for, but it looked like the production was getting big, if not bigger, if not too big. I couldn’t help thinking more is less here, too many competing references and altogether too much unnecessary stage movement.

But take that as very slight criticism. It was a splendid night, superbly managed by Antony Walker and the Orchestra of the Antipodes underwrote it all. I absolutely loved the sound. Mahogany. Beautiful to hear, beautiful to watch. The five minutes, or so it seemed, of repeat tuning of the period instruments was one of the best bits. I don’t suppose that will be on the CD, but I wont mind if it is.

Anders Dahlin was amazing with his extraordinary and seamless range. He sounded especially comfortable at its upper limits, ringing up to us, and reached his final lament with tremendous reserves, saving the best, in dynamics at least, for last. Whether humility was the intent, his demeanour and slender frame was so laid back that at times he looked almost limp. Sarah Macliver’s Jonathan was the bigger stage presence of the two, with a voice sounding like it was made for this role, white enough to be youthful, a moon white, pearl white tone, but able to be coloured when called for, and a lovely trill. The effect of two males, lovers, warriors, singing at that end of the scale was something extraordinary, itself giving the relationship an elevation beyond the pure physical, a distancing likely needed for a Jesuit commission of the day. We got the kiss.

Of the others, all good, I really liked Richard Andersons’ handsome Achis, and Anna Fraser be my shepherd any time.

Last but not least, Cantillation. How good are they. I don’t know what to say, except I want this recording and I want it especially for Cantillation and the orchestra, and to remember Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who gave such really beautiful music that so few have been lucky to hear. More please.

There’s very few reasons not to go: you’re in hospital, jail or a bush fire.

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