Kasper Holten presents a new production of Szymanowski’s sumptuously scored opera King Roger, a meditation on identity and desire digging deep into the battle between mind and body. The show is taking place until the 19th of May on Tuesdays and Saturdays at The Royal Opera House.
The performance is a story of a mysterious Shepherd who is brought before King Roger. The Church officials want him punished for his heretical preaching, but Roger’s queen Roxana pleads with the king to let the Shepherd speak first.
The Shepherd seduces the court with descriptions of his hedonistic faith. They follow him in a wild Bacchic dance, Roxana among them. As the long night ends, Roger seeks out the Shepherd and his followers. He is agonized by the temptation to follow them, but resists. Alone, he hails the new dawn.
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski began to gather ideas for Król Roger (King Roger), his second and final opera, in 1918. He was in part inspired by Euripides’ The Bacchae, in which King Pentheus attempts to suppress the hedonistic worship of Bacchus but ultimately succumbs to his temptation and is destroyed in a bloody frenzy.
Szymanowski’s music for the opera is opulently scored. The three short acts – commonly called the Byzantine, the Oriental and the Hellenic – brilliantly incorporate distinct musical styles. There are passages of exquisite lyricism, such as Roxana’s soaring Act II aria, alongside thrilling writing for the chorus. Kasper Holten’s new production (The Royal Opera’s first) finds in Roger’s indecision an expression of the struggle we all face – the struggle between intelligence and instinct in what is the innate duality of human nature.