King Roger, Opera by K. Szymanowski
Karol Szymanowski was an emblematic figure in 20th-century Polish culture and is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers Poland has ever given the world. His fantastical and controversial opera King Roger tackles the big question of religious and secular taboos, of prejudices and social hang-ups in the context of Sicily of the 12th century. It is widely regarded as Szymanowski’s most developed stage work in terms of both musical and psychological background. The allegorical opera now enjoys a fittingly impressive revival in Prague.
Szymanowski worked on King Roger (or Król Roger in its original Polish) for years. He crafted the libretto himself with the help of his cousin, the famous Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. In it, he explored his passion for Mediterranean cultures, which he regarded as the ultimate amalgamation of numerous different ethnic, religious and cultural traditions. Throughout the opera’s score, musical idioms from Europe and the Orient ring side by side, and the composer continuously explores the themes of duality and coexisting opposites in captivating musical form.
The plot of King Roger centres on the real historical figure of King Roger II of Sicily, a successful monarch who brought prosperity and peace to the island kingdom. One night, a mysterious shepherd enters the throne hall and hypnotises the royal court with his ideas of free expression, abolition of religious norms and morals, and return to earthly hedonism and primal order. At first, the king is overcome by doubts and jealousy, but soon enough he comes to appreciate the truth in the shepherd’s teachings. The clash between Christian dogmas and pagan naturalism is at the heart of this one-of-a-kind mystical opera. King Roger was premiered on 19 June 1926 at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw. Revivals of this special work are relatively rare, making the performances in Prague this season all the more exciting.