Sunday, 3 May 2015

ROH: Król Roger ★★★★

A new production of Szymanowski’s mystical opera led by powerful singing, creative staging and firm conducting

With fighting austerity and cutting costs across The Royal Opera House, director of opera Kasper Holten recently announced a ‘risk taking’ 2015/16 programme filled with classic and novel operas. This week is no exception as he introduces a new, ambitious yet exquisite production of 20th century Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s opera, Król Roger, which captures the mysticism and moral questioning that burdens its protagonist, King Roger. 

Written during the turbulent Russian revolution and honed with Mediterranean, Oriental and Byzantine church music, Szymanowski’s opulent masterpiece grapples with deep-rooted concepts through a troubled Christian king and the turn of events that ensue when he encounters a preacher who worships a hedonistic faith.

Steffen Aarfing’s set design of the king’s towering head and Luke Halls’ cosmic video imagery takes shape from an ominous and pitch-black start, which is passionately evoked through soaring conducting by Antonio Pappano. In Act II, the monolithic head becomes the interior of the king’s temple and the macrocosm of his guilt-stricken mind, shown through nude, erotic dancers. 
The production revels in a high quality cast. Mariusz Kwiecień comes on top as baritone singer, revealing the nuances of the king’s complex character. As Roxanna, Georgia Jarman’s hypnotic voice is intensely moving. And Saimir Pirgu adds charisma to the role of the heretic Shepherd, yet sings with a silvery voice.

Royal Opera House, London

May 1-19, PN May 1

Composer: Karol Szymanowski

Conductor: Antonio Pappano

(Librettists: Karol Szymanowski, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz)

Director: Kasper Holten

Design: Steffen Aarfing (set design), Jon Clark (lighting design), Luke Halls

(video design), Cathy Marston (choreography), John Lloyd Davies


Technical: Chris Harding-Roberts (production manager), Lorna Robinson

(costume supervisor), Emma Turner, Adam Lawley, Jessica Stanton, Aisling

Fitzgerald (stage management)

Cast: Alan Ewing, Agnes Zwierko, Mariusz Kwiecień, Kim Begley, Georgia

Jarman, Saimir Pirgu