King Roger, Santa Fe and Doing Opera Right

My five nights at the opera in Santa Fe last week were some of the most engaging I’ve spent listening to music drama in a long time. I tried to analyze what the season means in the context of today’s larger opera terrain in a piece published last week, and I took a closer look at one of my favorite composers, Karol Szymanowski, in an extended review of his “King Roger” in the Sunday paper. “King Roger” is one of those perpetually more-obscure-than-it-should-be pieces, and I really don’t understand why. It is the work of a Polish composer and written in Polish, which partially marginalized it in a cultural climate focused on the German, French and Italian classics. And its eroticism is a bit a sticky point for some listeners, perhaps. The harmonic language is highly individual, a muscular impressionism that verges on expressionistic outbursts, and that may make it too volatile and unstable for some listeners. And then there is its rather quaint and dense symbolist atmosphere, ladden with anxiety and stark, almost manichean divisions of the world and the soul. But what gorgeous music, and with Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role, what an amazing vehicle for singing. I hope Santa Fe’s success with it, and recent productions at Bard and in Paris, give it a new lease.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard (Courtesy of Santa Fe Opera)


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