The production of the opera King Roger by Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937), a towering figure figure of Polish culture of the first half of the 20th century, has been undertaken by the director Mariusz Treliński, who will return to Prague following his remarkable 2014 adaptation of Richard Strauss’s Salome. The hero of the ambiguous story, centred on the dichotomy between the Apollonian and Dyonisian principles, is the real historical figure of King Roger II, under whose reign in the 12th century Sicily enjoyed a significant economic boom and religious peace. Besides fascination with ancient cultures and the Orient, the main inspiration for Shymanowski for writing the opera was his visit to Sicily in 1914. The action takes place within a single night, at the beginning of which the throne is ascended by a mysterious charismatic shepherd/prophet, who by means of hypnosis is capable of entrancing people and, for the sake of hedonistic intoxication, freeing them of the shackles of secular or religious laws and taboos. Before long, he enchants and subjugates Roger’s wife, Roxana, and ultimately the whole royal court. As a result, he earns enormous hatred on the part of the Christian clergy. The question arises: is the shepherd’s teaching correct, does it give rise to joy, well-being and felicity, or does it only lead to ruin and chaos? The opera does not provide a clear answer. The libretto was penned by Shymanowski and his cousin, the renowned Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. The opera’s world premiere, in Warsaw on 19 June 1926, was also attended by the Czech composer and conductor Otakar Ostrčil, who in 1932 would present the piece at the National Theatre in Prague. In the current production, furnished with sophisticated, mesmerising sets designed by Slovakia’s Boris Kudlička, the director Mariusz Treliński unfurls the story of a king who en route to enlightenment struggles within, striving to decide whether to embrace reason, order and Christianity, or instinct, anarchy and hedonism.
In co-production with the Polish National Opera (Warsaw) and the Royal Swedish Opera (Stockholm).
Premiere performances: 3 and 5 April 2020 at the State Opera
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