King Roger

This article is about an opera. For the King of Sicily, see Roger II of Sicily.
King Roger
Opera by Karol Szymanowski

King Roger II of Sicily, from Liber ad honorem Augusti, 1196
Native title Król Roger
Other title Le Roi Roger
Librettist Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz
Language Polish
Premiere 19 June 1926 (1926-06-19)
Grand Theatre, Warsaw

King Roger (Polish: Król Roger, op. 46) is an opera in three acts by Karol Szymanowski to a Polish libretto by the composer himself and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, the composer's cousin. The opera received its world premiere on 19 June 1926 at the Grand Theatre, Warsaw, 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.[1]

Jim Samson has placed King Roger in a musico-psychological analysis of Szymanowski's compositional struggles.[2] Alistair Wightman has briefly discussed Szymanowski's stylised treatment of Arabic musical idioms in the score.[3] Stephen Downes has analysed in detail the themes of "duality" and "transformation" expressed in the music of the opera.[4]

Performance history

Since its 1926 premiere, stagings of King Roger have been relatively rare. Two productions followed closely, the first in Duisburg, Germany in 1928 and the second in 1932 in Prague. The first post Second World War presentation was in Palermo in 1949 (in the presence of the librettist), after which some years passed before the opera was seen again.

In 1975, the New Opera Company in London produced the work which was conducted by Charles Mackerras, while the opera was first seen in the US in 1981 in a concert version given by the St. Louis Symphony in St. Louis, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. That same year it was presented at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, conducted by Stanisław Wisłocki.

Since the late 1980s and into the present century, King Roger seems to have enjoyed something of a revival with about thirteen productions in many different locations. In 1988, the Long Beach Opera in California, known for its innovative approach to the repertoire, had Murray Sidlin as conductor and James Johnson as King Roger, Nancy Shade as Roxana, and Jonathan Mack as Edrisi.[5] A concert performance was given on 3 March 1990 at the Royal Festival Hall by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Andrew Davis. This was the opening concert of a festival of Szymanowski's works given by the South Bank Arts Centre. David Wilson-Johnson took the title role, with Wieslaw Ochman as the Shepherd, Eilene Hannan as Roxana, Martyn Hill as Edrisi, Matthew Best as the Archbishop and Anne Collins as the Archdeaconess.[6] Palermo presented King Roger again in 1992. Four concert versions were given by the end of the 1990s: the first by Orchestre National de France in Paris, conducted by Charles Dutoit in 1996 and at the London Proms by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle in 1998, while the third and fourth performances were presented in Montreal and subsequently, on October 17, 1999, at Carnegie Hall for the New York Premiere with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

In the 21st century, King Roger was given by the Polish National Opera in 2000 and in the same year also in Amsterdam by the Netherlands Opera, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen. In 2002, Charles Dutoit conducted the Japanese premiere of the work in a concert version with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, as well as in Prague with the Czeck Philharmonic in 2007. The Mariinsky Opera Company brought the work to the Edinburgh Festival in 2008 under Valery Gergiev and directed by Mariusz Trelinski[7]

It was presented in Palermo in 2005 and also by the Wrocław Opera in 2007. A subsequent US performance was at the Bard SummerScape Festival in 2008.[8][9]

Both the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Opéra National de Paris in Paris, conducted by Kazushi Ono presented it in 2009. In 2011, King Roger appeared at the Staatstheater Mainz. A new production of the opera was staged in Polish at The Santa Fe Opera on 21 July 2012 with Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role. [10] [11] In 2013, King Roger was presented at the 17th Festival Amazonas de Ópera in Manaus, Brazil with Marcin Bronikowski in the title role and, in June 2014, a new production is to be staged at the Wuppertal Opera House in Germany.[12] Two performances took place in Boston in March 2015 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Charles Dutoit. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, introduced a new production, conducted by Antonio Pappano, in May 2015.


Role Voice type Premiere, June 19, 1926
(Conductor: Emil Młynarski)
Roger II, King of Sicily baritone Eugeniusz Mossakowski
Roxana, his wife soprano Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska
Edrisi, an Arab scholar tenor Maurycy Janowski
Shepherd tenor Adam Dobosz
Archbishop bass
Deaconess contralto
Priests, monks, nuns, acolytes, courtiers, guards, eunuchs, Shepherd's disciples


Place: Sicily
Time: 12th Century

The story concerns the enlightenment of the Christian King Roger II by a young shepherd who represents pagan ideals.

Act 1

Often known as the "Byzantine" Act

The Shepherd is introduced to King Roger and his court during mass at the Palermo Cathedral. Despite calls by the Archbishop for his punishment as a heretic, Roxana, Roger's wife, convinces the King not to kill him. Roger orders the young man to appear at the palace that night, where he will explain himself and submit to the King's judgement.

Act 2

The "Oriental" Act, representing India and the Middle East

As instructed, the Shepherd appears at the palace gates. Roxana sings a seductive song which is clearly a response to the visitor, causing Roger to grow increasingly agitated. As the Shepherd is led in, he describes his faith in detail and soon almost the entire court joins him in an ecstatic dance. Roger attempts to chain him, but the Shepherd easily breaks free, and leaves the palace with almost all of those assembled following him. At first the King and his Arab advisor, Edrisi are left alone, but soon it is decided that Roger will join the Shepherd.

Act 3

The "Greco-Roman" Act

In an ancient Greek theater, King Roger and Edrisi rejoin Roxana, who informs her husband that only the Shepherd can free him of his fear and jealousy. A fire is lit, and the Shepherd's followers commence another dance, while the Shepherd is transformed into Dionysus. As the dance ends and the participants leave the stage, Roger is left transformed by the experience, and sings a joyous hymn at the arrival of the morning sun.


Year Cast:
(King Roger,
Opera House and Orchestra
1965+1988 Andrzej Hiolski,
Hanna Rumowska,
Kazimierz Pustelak,
Zdzisław Nikodem
Mieczysław Mierzejewski,
Polish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus and Youth Choir : Grand Theatre – National Opera Warszawa
AAC: Polskie Nagrania 1965,
Cat: 0250/1;
Olympia 1988,
Cat: OCD 303
1990 Andrzej Hiolski,
Barbara Zagórzanka,
Wiesław Ochman,
Henryk Grychnik
Karol Stryja,
Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus and the Cracow Philharmonic Boys' Choir
Audio CD: Marco Polo,
Cat: 223339;
Cat: 8660062-63
1992 Florian Skulski,
Barbara Zagórzanka,
Stanisław Kowalski,
Zdzisław Nikodem
Robert Satanowski,
Polish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus and Youth Choir : Grand Theatre – National Opera Warszawa
Audio CD: Koch-Schwann,
Cat: 314 014 K2
1998 Thomas Hampson,
Elzbieta Szmytka,
Ryszard Minkiewicz,
Philip Langridge
Simon Rattle,
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, plus City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus
Audio CD: EMI
Cat: 56823 and Cat: 14576
2003Wojtek Drabowicz,
Olga Pasichnyk,
Piotr Beczala,
Krzysztof Szmyt
Jacek Kaspszyk,
Polish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus and All Polacca Youth Choir
(Live recording of a broadcast at the Teatr Wielki, Warsaw, January)
Audio CD: Accord
Cat: ACD 131–2
2007 Andrzej Dobber,
Aleksandra Buczek,
Rafal Majzner,
Pavlo Tolstoy
Ewa Michnik,
Wroclaw Opera Orchestra and Choir and Angelus Chamber Choir
DVD: Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny
Cat: 5908259554143 (PAL version only)
2009 Scott Hendricks,
Olga Pasichnyk,
John Graham-Hall,
Willy Hartmann
Mark Elder,
Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Polish Radio Choir, Kraków, plus the Children's Chorus of Musikhauptschule Bregenz
DVD: C-Major
Cat: 702808 (NTTC)
2015 Mariusz Kwiecien,
Georgia Jarman,
Kim Begley,
Saimir Pirgu
Antonio Pappano,
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
DVD: Opus Arte
Cat: 8011613


  1. Stephen C Downes, "Narcissus, the Siren and Dionysus: Calls of Seduction in King Roger", Szymanowski, Eroticism and the Voices of Mythology, Royal Musical Association (2003), p. 54 ISBN 0-947854-10-X
  2. Samson, Jim (1979–1980). "Szymanowski: An Interior Landscape". Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association. 106: 69–76. doi:10.1093/jrma/106.1.69. JSTOR 765927.
  3. Wightman, Alastair (March 1987). "Szymanowski and Islam". The Musical Times. 128 (1729): 129–132. JSTOR 765927.
  4. Wightman, Alastair (July–October 1995). "Themes of Duality and Transformation in Szymanowski's King Roger". Music Analysis. 14 (2/3): 257–291. JSTOR 854015.
  5. Will Crutchfield (26 January 1988). "Szymanowski's King Roger in California". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  6. "BBC Radio 3 - 3 March 1990 - BBC Genome". Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  7. George Loomis (2008-07-24). "An innovative, multinational staging of Szymanowski's King Roger". New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  8. "Bard SummerScape: A Chat with King Roger Director Lech Majewski". Playbill Arts. 21 July 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  9. Philip Kennicott (29 July 2008). "King Roger, A Confounding Object of Desire". Washington Post. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  10. James M. Keller, "Review: King Roger revealed at Santa Fe Opera", The Santa Fe New Mexican, 23 July 2012
  11. John Stege, "A Thorough Rogering: The Santa Fe Opera’s King Roger stays focused", Santa Fe Reporter on, 25 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012
  12. Production details of King Roger in Wuppertal

External links

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