Winning canopy for “David and Jonathan”

View of the restored Royal Chapel. © Palace of Versailles / Thomas Garnier

CRITICISM – Charpentier’s biblical tragedy has found an ideal echo chamber in the Royal Chapel of Versailles.

Culminating at ten meters in the apse, at the level of the sculpted David of the great organ, the spectacular canopy of the decorators Antoine and Roland Fontaine catches the eye and arouses curiosity. Six months of work were necessary for the father and his son to create this structure whose carmine red, enhanced with gold, evokes the passion of Christ and the tragedy of David and Jonathan.

Of the two heroes of the Book of Samuel, whose friendship was shattered by the warrior jealousy of King Saul, Marc-Antoine Charpentier drew in 1688 one of the most powerful French opera-oratorios of the Baroque era: David and Jonathan. Where fights, invocations, triumphs and dances dispute it with the intimacy of laments whose affects pierce your heart with each breath. It is this miracle of balance between sacred art and opera that the Palace of Versailles had decided to represent until Sunday in the setting of its Royal Chapel.

A first for the building of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, still consecrated, which has never before been the subject of an opera production. However, how not to think, at the end of the two and a half hours of the show, both intimate and powerfully theatrical by director Marshall Pynkoski, that the place, in Versailles, was the ideal setting for Charpentier’s drama? Opening solemnly on the first notes of the prologue, the canopy with thick velvet drapes reveals an ephemeral structure whose vaults and staircases hug the choir of the chapel. All the same, it takes all the genius of the lighting designer Hervé Gary to transform these makeshift pillars into a battlefield, hell or green meadow, playing with gilding and white stone. With the exception of a carnival-like Pythonisse (a tasty incarnation of François-Olivier Jean) and the garish dancers of the prologue, Pynkoski and his choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg avoid visual excess. Signing neat and respectful paintings of the place. Worn by the often sublimely elegant costumes of Christian Lacroix. And the stage presence of the singers.

Surgical nuances

On the soloists side, Reinoud Van Mechelen shines in David. His straight and luminous high-counter is an enchantment with each intervention. We will long remember its final tune, with a “Alas!” to turn your heart and your choir upside down, even if they were made of stone. In Jonathas, Caroline Arnaud, despite a scene at 1.30 meters, struggles to pass the imposing numbers of the Marguerite-Louise ensemble. But his great aria from Act IV (“Has there ever been a harsher sentence?”) grips the guts. Especially accompanied with such finesse (cantabile of Robin Pharo’s viola da gamba, smoothness of Jean Bregnac’s flute, charisma of Étienne Galletier’s theorbo). With the choir, large or small (precision and homogeneity made voice), the orchestra of Gaëtan Jarry, lively, colorful, surgical in the nuances, was the master asset of this musical and theatrical experimentation: never dry. Retaining just enough to compensate for the reverberation. Sacred drama, which must now fly to Potsdam. We hope to see it again regularly under the gold of the Royal Chapel. Every year for Holy Week?

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