Last night’s performance of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s 1926 opera KING ROGER was one of those magical nights in the theatre that we all hope to experience but which in reality happens so rarely. Everything about the evening was extraordinary, including the piece itself, which I had never heard “live” before.
The libretto is enigmatic, and was inspired by Euripides’ THE BACCHAE, but with a 12th century Sicilian king standing in for Greek king Pentheus.
The production was mounted for Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien (who reminded me afterward that it was eleven years ago that he made his Dallas Opera debut) and he was magnificent as the tormented king.
Everyone in the cast was wonderful though, starting with William Burden as the shepherd who is the leader of a mystic religious sect that preaches pleasure over reason.
Erin Morley was lovely as the conflicted Queen Roxana and Raymond Aceto was imposing as the Archbishop whose authority is threatened by the appearance of the mysterious shepherd.
Tenor Dennis Petersen and mezzo-soprano Laura Wilde gave strong support in smaller roles.
The orchestral writing is lush and lovely in a neo-romantic style that for lack of a better comparison is a cross between Richard Strauss and Bela Bartok. The choral writing is particularly beautiful, and the apprentices who make up the Santa Fe Opera chorus were superb.
Stephen Wadsworth directed with acute insight into this complex, murky story and created a simple but remarkably effective production with atmospheric sets by Thomas Lynch and beautiful costumes by Ann Hould-Ward.
None of the evening’s success, however, would have been possible without young American conductor Evan Rogister in the pit. His command of the orchestra, who have rarely played better, brought out the exotic textures in the music and his connection to the stage with its complex choral and solo vocal writing was most impressive.
The evening was one I will never forget.
There was one amusing thing that happened back stage after the performance that I should also recount.
I was waiting to congratulate Mariusz on his stunning performance (and to chat briefly about an upcoming project in Dallas that we are trying to work out) and so was chatting with some friends from San Francisco who are planning to come to Dallas in the spring for THE ASPERN PAPERS. As the name of the opera was mentioned, the lady standing behind them turned around as if on cue, and it was, of course, Susan Graham, who will be starring in that production!
The timing was perfect, and we all had a good laugh about it.
I also had a chance to speak with Bill Burden, who has had a very interesting season singing a lot of unusual repertoire, starting last fall with the world premiere of San Francisco Opera’s HEART OF A SOLDIER. He then sang the leading role in another world premiere, Kevin Puts’ SILENT NIGHT at Minnesota Opera. Then in May he sang “Jupiter” in Handel’s SEMELE for the Canadian Opera in Toronto, and then came to Santa Fe for KING ROGER.
The reason I have mentioned all this is because Bill must have begun to wonder if I was stalking him, since without consciously planning it, I had managed to attend performances of all these productions! I think that this must be some sort of record.