Katie Derham presents Nielsen's Saul and David, marking the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, in a performance from Danish Royal Opera conducted by Michael Schonwandt.
Katie Derham presents the first of our opera broadcasts marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen - a performance from Danish Royal Opera of his first opera, Saul and David, telling the Biblical story of Saul's jealousy of the young David, who has won the favour of the people by defeating the giant, Goliath. Celebrated Nielsen interpreter Michael Schønwandt conducts, with Johan Reuter in the dramatic title role as King Saul and Ann Petersen as David's beloved Michal. His other opera, Maskerade, will be broadcast later this month.
Nielsen: Saul og David
Johan Reuter, bass-baritone, Saul
Michael Kristensen, tenor, Jonathan
Ann Petersen, soprano, Michal
Niels Jørgen Riis, tenor, David
Morten Staugaard, bass, Samuel
Leif Jone Ølberg, bass-baritone, Abner
Susanne Resmark, contralto, Witch of Eldor
Danish Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra
Michael Schønwandt, conductor.
Act I: <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
The army and the people of Israel fearfully anticipate defeat at the hands of the Philistines' "thirty thousand warriors , and six thousand on horseback:" The opera begins with the stormy orchestral prelude which introduces Saul, who is impatiently awaiting the arrival of the prophet Samuel. Fearing the consequences of delay, the King reassures himself of his authority to commence proceedings by offering the sacrifice. Samuel arrives and declares that for this impetuous start: "THIS DAY THE LORD HAS RENT THE KINGDOM FROM YOU." With the support of all around him, Saul begs forgiveness and acknowledges his wickedness, but in the famous soliloquy he argues "The Lord is evil… because evil has he made me ... His hand is against me, and mine is clenched against him!"
Only David the shepherd and friend of Jonathan the King's son can soothe the troubled Saul with music and he agrees to stay. David and Mikal realise that they have seen each other before, and against the expansive background of Helios, the setting sun, they sing of their deep mutual love, closing the first Act.
The splendid and often-performed orchestral prelude sets the scene of the splendour of the royal dwelling whose peace is disturbed by news that the Philistines have now pitched camp in the valley, ten times their previous numbers. They are led by a giant who provokes the Israelites and challenges their king to provide him with a champion to settle the score finally. David speaks of the time he rescued one of his father's sheep from a lion and declares that he will meet the giant in mortal combat, To Mikal's pleas to reconsider, David tries then rejects the King's armour as too clumsy, and takes instead his sling. Before long, news arrives that Goliath lies slain. The chorus sings to the glory of David, acclaiming his achievements beyond those of their King. Saul is consumed with jealousy ("Foam on his lips! Blood in his eyes!") as he sings to David: "Never shall the king's daughter honour your house and your bed! Outlawed before you all! Out of my house!" and throws his spear after the fleeing youth.
Now the orchestral prelude is peaceful, setting the scene of the moonlit camp at the foot of the hills. Saul and his warriors are asleep. Only Jonathan and Mikal awake: "Look at the night Mikal; a twinkling profundity!" After pondering on the safety and whereabouts of David, they too fall asleep. David and his companions appear from the top of the cliffs. They enter the camp and remove the King's spear, but David refuses all encouragements to take Saul's life. Instead he pleads for reconciliation and swears his loyalty all of which is accepted. All is well until the prophet of the Lord arrives and stirs the King's rage by reminding the assembly that it is David who is now the Lord's anointed. In the chaos and confusion, Jonathan is in despair, and the lovers flee for their lives.
Israel and her troubled King are still faced by the overwhelming threat from the Philistines. Heavily disguised, Saul sets out on a dark and wild night to seek the aid of the Witch of Endor. Being thoroughly professional, she soon recognizes her monarch, who has, as a matter of fact, outlawed the practice of sorcery. But she is even more troubled when she hears that the King is asking her to raise the spirit of the recently deceased Samuel the Prophet.
The summoned apparition brings no comfort to the King but chillingly prophesies: "When day breaks, the Philistines shall plunder your camp and you and your family in the depth of the Kingdom of Death before evening shall be gathered with me!' the battle goes and Jonathan is the first to die. Stricken by grief, Saul takes his own life.
When the news reaches David and Mikal, they are overawed, and the drama ends in a united glory to God and the realisation that Israel's hopes and God's promised Kingdom on earth now depend upon the strength of David.
1990 Jack Lawson Secretary, The Carl Nielsen Society of Great Britain