Pinchgut Opera, based in Sydney and founded in 2002, specializes in Baroque and Classical opera, featuring works such as Semele, The Fairy Queen, Idomeneo, and Orfeo. One of its more obscure repertoire choices is Marc-Antoine Charpentier's 1688 David & Jonathan. It's a work that's rarely performed or recorded, so this fine performance is revelatory. The libretto by François de Paule Bretonneau generally sticks to the story as outlined in the First Book of Samuel, focusing on King Saul's enmity with David, David's friendship, (or love), for Saul's son Jonathan, and his grief over the deaths of Jonathan and Saul, but the librettist invents a villainous general, Joabel, whose jealousy triggers the fatal battle. He also adds a reunion between David and Jonathan before the latter's death, and treats their relationship as clearly romantic, which must explain Charpentier's decision to cast Jonathan as a soprano. (On the other hand, the composer may have been motivated by the need for a woman's voice in a leading role in a cast that, except for the chorus, is all-male.) Charpentier's writing is always elegant, but it is also psychologically penetrating. His orchestration is particularly apt in underscoring the drama, and his choral writing is varied and gorgeously rich.
Anders J. Dahlin, as David, is an authentic contre-haute who can negotiate the extremely high tenor part with easy assurance. His tone is ringing, warm, and rounded, with none of the tightness that can characterize more conventional tenors attempting this repertoire. He is a fine musician besides, who understands the conventions of the French Baroque, and makes the highly ornamented lines sound spontaneous and effortless. His performance is well-developed dramatically, and he makes a convincingly human David. Sara Madiwar's Jonathan is exceptionally sweet-voiced and pure. Most of the remaining principals are very fine; bass David Parkin is darkly menacing as the ghost of Samuel, and baritones Richard Anderson and Simon Lobelson are fully effective as Achis and Joabel. Dean Anderson lacks the vocal power and dramatic weight to give Saul credibility, and tenor Paul McMahon is shaky as the Witch who summons Samuel. Anthony Walker leads Orchestra of the Antipodes and the chorus Cantillation in a graceful but urgent reading of the score that is enlivened by a strong understanding of middle-Baroque French performance practice. The sound is good for a live performance, and there is minimal ancillary noise, mostly rustling page turns. This set should interest any fans of Baroque opera.