King Roger

King Roger Act III production sketch

King Roger Act III production sketch

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College Fri 25, Sun 27, Jul 31, Aug 2, 3

Long overdue for its New York stage premiere, Karol Szymanowski’s sizzling 1926 opera arrives this week as a highlight of the 2008 SummerScape Festival at Bard College. Bard president and SummerScape music director Leon Botstein, who will conduct, explains the neglect of a work he deems a masterpiece: “It’s suffered from the fact that Szymanowski is not well enough known outside of his native Poland, and although it’s very dramatic, it doesn’t have a classic operatic story line.”

It certainly doesn’t. Static in action but rich in tension, King Roger takes a historical figure—Sicily’s highly learned and progressive ruler from 1130 to 1154—and throws him into a vortex of conflicting sexual and spiritual urges, triggered by the arrival in his court of a handsome young shepherd preaching a Dionysian cult of sensuality. Szymanowski, who was gay, knew a thing or two about urges, and his score seethes with a shimmering, opulent eroticism. Like a rich stew of Scriabin, Schreker and Strauss, the work is bathed in exotic melodic lines and overlaid with gripping, conflicted tonalities.

A short opera—the running time is under 90 minutes— King Roger will be paired with Szymanowski’s half-hour ballet, Harnasie, a product of the composer’s fascination with Polish folklore and the native dances of the Tatra Mountains. Both works will be staged by Polish director Lech Majewski, whose films were the subject of a 2006 retrospective at MoMA.

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