KING ROGER at the Krakow Opera!16 November 2015
In May 2015, Karol Szymanowski’s opera ‘King Roger’ with Mariusz Kwiecień in the title role received a standing ovation from the audience in Covent Garden - Royal Opera House in London.
On Friday, 13 November 2015, spectators had the opportunity to watch Szymanowski’s piece with Mariusz Kwiecień as Roger on the stage of the Krakow Opera. The premiere performance of ‘King Roger’, an opera performed already on the most acknowledged stages in the world, has been awaited by Krakow music lovers with great impatience. Premiere stagings were fantastically received by the audience who awarded the artists with a thunderous applause.
The performance was carried out as part of the presentation of Polish operatic output, in the year of the 250th anniversary of Public Theatre in Poland, just as was the exhibition accompanying the premiere titled ‘Szymanowski at the Krakow Opera’.
It was directed by Michał Znaniecki, Łukasz Borowicz was the music director, the set was designed by Luigi Scoglio, whereas the costumes - by the director himself.
Solo parts featured: Mariusz Kwiecień (Roger), Katarzyna Oleś-Blacha, Iwona Socha (Roxana), Pavlo Tolstoy (Shepherd), Vasyl Grokholskyi, Adam Sobierajski (Edrisi), Przemysław Firek, Jacek Ozimkowski (Archbishop), Monika Korybalska (Deaconess). The Krakow Opera Orchestra, Choir, Children’s Choir, and Ballet were conducted by Łukasz Borowicz.
After the Friday premiere show, during a traditional meeting with a glass of wine, Mariusz Kwiecień received from Jan Popis, the President of the Association of Polish Music Artists, the statuette “Orpheus 2013”. The artist was awarded for his extraordinary achievements in operatic art, which significantly enforce the prestige of Polish Music Artists on world opera stages.
Expressing his congratulations to the producers and performers for the magnificent staging of ‘King Roger’, Jan Popis expressed his deep respect for the character created by Mariusz Kwiecień. He underlined that the “Orpheus”, awarded since 1964, is a prestigious distinction and the laureates have formed a galaxy of outstanding individuals of Polish music environment.
During the celebrations, Director Bogusław Nowak presented Zofia Gołubiew, the Director of the National Museum in Krakow, with the thirty-third Krakow Opera Baton. He stressed that Zofia Gołubiew had been a particularly important person to the theatre, present at almost all premiere and numerous regular performances. Her opinions and critic have created opera for the Polish culture and have been immensely important to the Krakow Opera environment.
Let us remind you that the tradition of handing Krakow Opera Batons has been cultivated since the opening of our new venue in 2008.
Guests present at the premiere performance included representatives of the world of art, culture, and media, as well as such artists as Teresa Żylis-Gara, an extraordinary soprano connected with the Krakow Opera, and Agata Trzebuchowska, the actress playing the title role in Paweł Pawlikowski’s film ‘Ida’.
Below are some excerpts from reviews of the Krakow premiere of ‘King Roger’:
‘Three years of waiting until the Polish spectator could view the staging of Karol Szymanowski’s opera, executed already by Michał Znaniecki in Bilbao. So much time was needed to transfer one of the most interesting versions of “King Roger”, and he undoubtedly does lead a rich theatre life, to one of Polish theatres. After all, the last 25 years have brought nearly 20 premiere performances of the piece on European stages.
However, what Michał Znaniecki presented at the Krakow Opera is not a mere repetition. He introduced certain changes to his staging, especially in the 3rd act, however kept what in Bilbao decided on the originality and power of the play. Not only did he abandon the Dionysian and Apollonian conflict and the clash of the strict Mediaeval Christianity with the refined culture of Antiquity, which fascinated Szymanowski at the verge of the 20th century, but also did not make a performance about the dilemmas of power, as producers of “King Roger” so eagerly do nowadays.
In Krakow, we watch an intimate, yet moving family drama. The intrusion of a mysterious Shepherd into the stabilised life of Roger and Roxana destroys their order and happiness.
Unlike, however, the Bilbao premiere, the gay plot was softened. This staging is closer to the far-famed “Teorema” by Pasolini, since like in the film, the stranger fascinates both the husband, and the wife. Roger abandons the marriage ring as the first, yet it is Roxana, as Szymanowski imagined it, to follow the Shepherd. The third act brings an unexpected destruction of the world. Michał Znaniecki moved the action forward and here you see like the life-wretched wife returns to the old Roger. Nothing, however, can be rebuilt at that time, as apparently simple decisions, pursuing one’s fascinations, drives, and instincts, bring irreversible consequences. Only death is left. The consistently outlined Krakow staging proves also how universal the message of Szymanowski’s opera is. It can be, thus, read in numerous ways, it is possible to select one plot and create a logical, deep, and moving performance.
A great advantage is, of course, the participation of the presently best Roger in the world - Mariusz Kwiecień. In this part and in this staging he was indeed charismatic, he drew attention, but also followed the director’s idea; and the final hymn to the sun was absolutely breathtaking. And yet he did not turn the only hero of the premiere performance. Pavlo Tolstoy, who also has been playing the Shepherd for some time now, for the first time ever has fully discovered himself in the role. He created a sharp character, matching Mariusz Kwiecień in terms of expression in the scenes with Roger.
It is a very masculine performance, as its shape was influenced also by Łukasz Borowicz. He toned down the sound of the orchestra in order not to cover the singers, which favoured the stage action (...).
Jacek Marczyński, the Rzeczpospolita daily, 15 November 2015
(...) For some not entirely clear reasons, there are people afraid of a confrontation with the music of Karol Szymanowski. They say that it is difficult and demanding, forgetting, however, about its undeniable beauty. Since is it possible to resist the charm of this music while listening to the opera opening choir “Hagios” stylised to sound as archaic Orthodox singing or Roxana’s song with the captivating vocalise? Except for the richness of colour and expression, provided by the lavish score, the multifaceted “King Roger” is a dream piece to interpret for every skilful director. The more striking it is that the world’s most popular Polish opera is staged in Krakow only for the third time. In the post-war Poland, “King Roger” was presented to the Krakow audience first only in 1976 during an experimental performance in the hall of the AGH University of Technology (dir. M. Prus, mus. dir. R. Satanowski). The second presentation took place in 1982 in the Bernardine Church (dir. W. Ziętarski, mus. dir. E. Michnik). Visibly, there has been a long wait for a new staging. It was carried out by Michał Znaniecki, a director well-known in Krakow, who has encountered Szymanowski’s work many times, also on world stages, including Bilbao. Just as in the Spanish theatre, the title role of the King was played by the “full-time” Roger, that is Mariusz Kwiecień. We are extremely lucky that this most famous Polish baritone finds time at least once a year to perform on the Krakow Opera stage. In the production conducted by Łukasz Borowicz, Kwiecień was second to none both in terms of acting, and singing (...). From the beginning to the end, he presented a flawless diction. His Roger is a man who has a family, power, and money, and still is a lonely person. Deeply hidden desires and his true “self” are awaken only by the Shepherd (in this role the hypnotic (...) Pavlo Tolstoy). He is the mirror which allows Roger to look deeply in the eyes of his hitherto denied homosexual nature. Also the bored wife of the King, Roxana (vocally skilful Katarzyna Oleś-Blacha) falls for the Shepherd’s charm. When the spouses meet after years, they realise that the Shepherd destroyed not only their relationship, but also the entire world they had lived in. The clock cannot be turned back. The final solution offered by Znaniecki is, thus, death. Other interesting ideas of the director include the introduction of the character of a son and the transfer of action in the 3rd act 30 years forward, into a post-apocalyptic desert scenery (...). In terms of dramaturgy, the first two acts turned out to have been the most powerful ones, with a gradation of tension (great scene of a kiss) and intriguing costumes in the first act (designed by Znaniecki). The choir prepared by Zygmunt Magiera did really well. Great applause also to the light director Bogumił Palewicz, and the set designer Luigi Scoglio for the statues and monuments in the palace of knowledge. Znaniecki’s “King Roger” is a strong and successful staging (...).’
Mateusz Borkowski, the Dziennik Polski daily, 16 November 2015