Saturday, October 24, 2009


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 25th of October 2009 at 3 - 4.30 pm


SZYMANOWSKI: Kròl Roger, an opera in three acts
King Roger................... Mariusz Kwiecien
Shepherd...................... Eric Cutler
Roxana......................... Olga Pasichnyk
Edrisi............................ Stefan Margita
Archbishop................... Wojtek Smilek
Deaconess.................... Jadwiga Rappé
Paris National Opera Chorus & Orch/Kazushi Ono
(recorded in the Opéra Bastille, Paris by Radio France)

This is a fascinating opera about the Norman King Roger II of Sicily (1095 - 1154). It is unanimously judged to be a masterpiece. This Polish composer, Karol Szymanowski (1882 - 1937) was born in the Ukraine. Shimanovski is how we usually say his name, but I suppose he would have pronounced it differently. The first two syllables always suggest 'shimmer' to me, and I think of his music as 'shimmering' (shining tremulously), as in his first violin concerto.

The historical background can be studied under HISTORY, in which Normans rule over Sicily and southern Italy. Roger had the Muslim scholar Idrisi at his court (I have studied his book of geography for my research into early South-East Asian history, and he receives a passing mention in my co-authored book The Maharajas of the Isles, 2009); he appears here as Edrisi.

Act 1 is Christian, starting with a glorious mass in the Palermo Cathedral, featuring some awesomely beautiful music (like Parsifal). The archbishop and the deaconess (or abess) warn the king about a corrupting influence in the realm, and Edrisi explains that it is shepherd boy. This radiant youth tells the king about his vivacious young god. Queen Roxana is impressed and persuades the king not to kill him, though the crowd is demanding his death.

Act 2 is Oriental (Indian and Arab culture, and also Tristan). Roxana sings a seductive song, and the king is worried that she is under the shepherd's spell. The young mystic names his home as Benares (Varanasi on the Gangga river), declares himself to be a messenger of God, and leads the courtiers in an ecstatic Arabian dance. Roger has him bound in chains, but he easily breaks them, and leads the queen and the people to the 'kingdom of light' (as Indian swamis still do). Edrisi and Roger are left behind, but the king suddenly takes off his crown and follows them on the pilgrimage.

Act 3 is Grecian, and Roger and Edrisi come to a Greek temple or theatre in Syracuse, where Roxana and the shepherd invite him to worship the deity Dionysos with flowers, to free himself of his anxiety and jealousy. A Dionysian dance ensues, and eventually they all disappear, except Roger and Edrisi, who greet the rising sun with a hymn. (And they all lived happily ever after?)

Shamefully I confess that I have never owned a recording of this opera.

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