King Roger (Król Roger, op. 46) is a Polish opera in 3 acts, with music by Karol Szymanowski and the libretto by the composer himself and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, the composer's cousin. The opera received its world premiere on 19 June 1926 in Warsaw, Poland, with the cast including the composer's sister, the soprano Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska, as Roxana.
The opera originated from Szymanowski's enthusiasm for Mediterranean culture as a melting pot of different peoples and religions. He spent much time travelling in that area in 1911 and in 1914, and shared his love of the region with Iwaszkiewicz. In the summer of 1918 at Odessa, Ukraine, Szymanowski and Iwaszkiewicz conceived the project, and composed the opera over the period of 1918 to 1924. Szymanowski's lost novel Efebos dealt with mystical themes similar to those that inspired this work.
Jim Samson has placed King Roger in a musico-psychological analysis of Szymanowski's compositional struggles. Alistair Wightman has briefly discussed Szymanowski's stylised treatment of Arabic musical idioms in the score. Stephen Downes has analysed in detail the themes of "duality" and "transformation" expressed in the music of the opera.
Since its 1926 premiere, stagings of King Roger have been relatively rare. Two productions followed closely, the first in Duisburg, Germany in 1928 and the second in 1932 in Prague. The first post Second World War presentation was in Palermo in 1949 (in the presence of the librettist), after which some years passed before the opera was seen again.
In 1975, the New Opera Company in London produced the work which was conducted by Charles Mackerras, while the opera was first seen in the US in 1981 in a concert version given by the St. Louis Symphony in St. Louis, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. That same year it was presented at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, conducted by Stanisław Wisłocki.
Since the late 1980s and into the present century, King Roger seems to have enjoyed something of a revival with about thirteen productions in many different locations. In 1988, the Long Beach Opera in California, known for its innovative approach to the repertoire, had Murray Sidlin as conductor and James Johnson as King Roger, Nancy Shade as Roxana, and Jonathan Mack as Edrisi. Palermo presented King Roger again in 1992. Three concert versions were given by the end of the 1990s: the first by Orchestre National de France in Paris, conducted by Charles Dutoit in 1996 and at the London Proms by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle in 1998, while the third was presented in Canada in 1999 by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit.
In the 21st century, King Roger was given by the Polish National Opera in 2000 and in Japan in 2002 as a concert version by the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, conducted by Charles Dutoit. The Mariinsky Opera Company brought the work to the Edinburgh Festival in 2008 under Valery Gergiev and directed by Mariusz Trelinski
Both the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Opéra National de Paris in Paris, conducted by Kazushi Ono presented it in 2009. In 2011, King Roger appeared at the Staatstheater Mainz. A new production of the opera was staged in Polish at The Santa Fe Opera on 21 July 2012 with Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role.   In 2013, King Roger was presented at the 17th Festival Amazonas de Ópera in Manaus, Brazil with Marcin Bronikowski in the title role and, in June 2014, a new production is to be staged at the Wuppertal Opera House in Germany.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere, June 19, 1926
(Conductor: Emil Młynarski)
|Roger II, King of Sicily||baritone||Eugeniusz Mossakowski|
|Roxana, his wife||soprano||Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska|
|Edrisi, an Arab scholar||tenor||Maurycy Janowski|
|Priests, monks, nuns, acolytes, courtiers, guards, eunuchs, Shepherd's disciples|
- Place: Sicily
- Time: 12th Century
Often known as the "Byzantine" Act
The Shepherd is introduced to King Roger and his court during mass at the Palermo cathedral. Despite calls for his punishment as a heretic by the Archbishop, Roxana, Roger's wife, convinces the King not to kill him. Roger orders the young man to appear at the palace that night, where he will explain himself and submit to the King's judgement.
As instructed, the Shepherd appears at the palace gates. Roxana sings a seductive song which is clearly a response to the visitor, causing Roger to grow increasingly agitated. As the Shepherd is led in, he describes his faith in detail and soon almost the entire court joins him in an ecstatic dance. Roger attempts to chain him, but the Shepherd easily breaks free, and leaves the palace with almost all of those assembled following him. At first the King and his Arab advisor, Edrisi are left alone, but soon it is decided that Roger will join the Shepherd.
The "Greco-Roman" Act
In an ancient Greek theater, King Roger and Edrisi rejoin Roxana, who informs her husband that only the Shepherd can free him of his fear and jealousy. A fire is lit, and the Shepherd's followers commence another dance, while the Shepherd is transformed into Dionysus. As the dance ends and the participants leave the stage, Roger is left transformed by the experience, and sings a joyous hymn at the arrival of the morning sun.
Opera House and Orchestra
Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus and the Cracow Philharmonic Boys' Choir
|Audio CD: Marco Polo,
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, plus City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus
|Audio CD: EMI
Cat: 56823 and Cat: 14576
Polish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus and All Polacca Youth Choir
(Live recording of a broadcast at the Teatr Wielki, Warsaw, January)
|Audio CD: Accord
Cat: ACD 131-2
Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Polish Radio Choir, Kraków, plus the Children's Chorus of Musikhauptschule Bregenz
Cat: 702808 (NTTC)
Wroclaw Opera Orchestra and Choir and Angelus Chamber Choir
|DVD: Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny
Cat: 5908259554143 (PAL version only)
- Stephen C Downes, "Narcissus, the Siren and Dionysus: Calls of Seduction in King Roger", Szymanowski, Eroticism and the Voices of Mythology, Royal Musical Association (2003), p. 54 ISBN 0-947854-10-X
- Samson, Jim (1979–1980). "Szymanowski: An Interior Landscape". Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 106: 69–76. doi:10.1093/jrma/106.1.69. JSTOR 765927.
- Wightman, Alastair (March 1987). "Szymanowski and Islam". The Musical Times 128 (1729): 129–132. JSTOR 765927.
- Wightman, Alastair (July–October 1995). "Themes of Duality and Transformation in Szymanowski's King Roger". Music Analysis 14 (2/3): 257–291. JSTOR 854015.
- Will Crutchfield (26 January 1988). "Szymanowski's King Roger in California". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
- George Loomis (2008-07-24). "An innovative, multinational staging of Szymanowski's King Roger". New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
- "Bard SummerScape: A Chat with King Roger Director Lech Majewski". Playbill Arts. 21 July 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
- Philip Kennicott (29 July 2008). "King Roger, A Confounding Object of Desire". Washington Post. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
- James M. Keller, "Review: King Roger revealed at Santa Fe Opera", The Santa Fe New Mexican, 23 July 2012
- John Stege, "A Thorough Rogering: The Santa Fe Opera’s King Roger stays focused", Santa Fe Reporter on sfreporter.com, 25 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012
- Production details of King Roger in Wuppertal
- Earl of Harewood (Ed.), "King Roger", Kobbé's Complete Opera Book. Putnam: London and New York, 1954, pp. 1594–98
- Holden, Amanda (Ed.), "Karol Szymanowski", The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Libretto (in Polish)
- Libretto (English translation)
- Kultiversum German-language page on King Roger
- Classical Composers.org page on Stanisław Michal Wisłocki
- Rob Barnett, CD review of Accord ACD 131, MusicWeb International, 4 May 2004
- Myers, Eric, King Roger, Time Out, New York, 22–30 July 2008. Review of the Bard College production