Karol Szymanowski's Król Roger (King Roger), an opera set in 12th-century Sicily, has not gained the notoriety many feel it deserves. With themes ranging from classical Greek religion to Nietzschean philosophy, the Polish composer created a work, however underestimated, whose appeal extended well past his death in 1937.
The opera has garnered critical acclaim for its score, which was strongly influenced by the work of Strauss and Ravel. However, despite its musical brilliance, Król Roger has not often been performed due to some dramatic flaws.
The opera is focused on the eponymous hero, King Roger II of Sicily, as he meets and befriends a local shepherd who represents pagan ideals. As members of his court devote themselves to the shepherd's Dionysian hedonism, only Roger is left unaffected and has the responsibility of unmasking the shepherd as Dionysus himself. It is divided into three acts, commonly referred to as the "Byzantine" (Act I), "Oriental" (Act II) and "Greco-Roman" (Act III), each one containing musical influences from these periods.
The Mariinsky Opera Company, who are adapting the work for this show, describe it as "unusual and vivid" and strongly allegorical. The director, Mariusz Trelinski, aims to take "actual allusions out of parenthesis, leaving them to the imagination". He follows the "musical drama of the work and rejects unilateral answers to questions raised by the composer".
While Trelinski creates a freer interpretation on stage, the show's conductor Valery Gergiev will add his interpretation to the score. Gergiev is internationally renowned for his enthusiasm and conducting verve; his style has earned him multiple awards and a position as the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He should be well-suited to an opera described as a "map of the composer's own religious and riveting life".
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