Opera review: David et Jonathas, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

LES Arts Florissant’s new production of Charpentier’s Biblical tragedy David et Jonathas first took to the stage last month at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Hardly surprising then, it still looked fresh and challenging as it opened its Edinburgh Festival run last night.

Star rating: * * *

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It’s an opera, aside from its locational context within the battling states of Israel and Philistine (read Palestine), that centres primarily on the hotly-debated close relationship – homoerotic or platonic camaraderie? – between David and Jonathan, son of Saul. So there’s ample justification for stage directors such as Andreas Homoki to explore such dizzying ambiguity, in this case weighted significantly towards the homoerotic.

Homoki and set designer Paul Zoller adopt an approach, that is visually compelling in the way the action is enclosed within a tantalisingly expanding and contracting wooden box which heightens the sense of mental anxiety eating away at the principal characters. It’s a perfect match, too, for a musical score whose delicious lyricism and crunching pathos is poetically realised by conductor William Christie and a cast and orchestra stylistically in tune with the idiom.

Out of that come convincing characterisations by Neal Davies as the paranoid Saul, Ana Quintans as the tragic Jonathas and Pascal Charbonneau in the high-tessitura role of David. Yet for all the significant chunks of visual thrill and ingenuity, there are moments so contrived they just confuse.