When to see it
These events are part of the Spring 2015 season.
A mysterious Shepherd is brought before King Roger. The Church officials want him punished for his heretical preaching, but Roger's queen Roxana pleads with the king to let the Shepherd speak first.
The Shepherd seduces the court with descriptions of his hedonistic faith. They follow him in a wild Bacchic dance, Roxana among them. As the long night ends, Roger seeks out the Shepherd and his followers. He is agonized by the temptation to follow them, but resists. Alone, he hails the new dawn.
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski began to gather ideas for Król Roger (King Roger), his second and final opera, in 1918. He was in part inspired by Euripides' The Bacchae, in which King Pentheus attempts to suppress the hedonistic worship of Bacchus but ultimately succumbs to his temptation and is destroyed in a bloody frenzy. Szymanowski's cousin, the poet Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, provided the original libretto; but in Szymanowski's arduous six-year gestation of the piece he altered the third act. His King Roger instead becomes a Nietzschean hero, who resists his desire and emerges 'strong enough for freedom'. But the focus of the opera is Roger's agonizing indecision – and the glorious music of the Act II Bacchic dance leaves a profound impression of the power of sensual temptation.
Szymanowski's music for the opera is opulently scored. The three short acts – commonly called the Byzantine, the Oriental and the Hellenic – brilliantly incorporate distinct musical styles. There are passages of exquisite lyricism, such as Roxana's soaring Act II aria, alongside thrilling writing for the chorus. Kasper Holten's new production (The Royal Opera's first) finds in Roger's indecision an expression of the struggle we all face – the struggle between intelligence and instinct in what is the innate duality of human nature.
News and features
27 March 2015
Composers and choreographers have long explored the difference in cultures between East and West.
10 March 2015
Our quick guide to Szymanowski’s sumptuous opera on self-control and desire.
2 December 2014
Andrea Chénier, La bohème, Die Zauberflöte and others on Opera on 3.
18 July 2014
While the Opera and Ballet Companies are away, work goes into preparing the scores for the new Season.
24 April 2014
Operatic characters often look to the heavens, in thanks or in anguished supplication.
2 April 2014
The Music Director will conduct six operas, as well as the first in a series of annual symphonic concerts at Covent Garden.
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.