King Roger at the ROH: a masterpiece

Reading time: 2 min. Karol Szymanowski

But now, after this rapturously acclaimed performance, Król Roger’s power and stature are decisively vindicated, lifting it alongside Bluebeard’s Castle and the later works of Janacek as a masterpiece of the early twentieth-century European sensibility. (Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 2 May 2015)

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: Szymanowski’s 1926 opera Król Roger isn’t a lovely occasional oddity, a rarity whose appeal is largely novelty, or a dust-it-off-once-a-decade sort of piece. It’s that rarest of things, a real and original masterpiece whose worth has been unaccountably undervalued. (Alexandra Coghlan, The Arts Desk, 2 May 2015)

It's a production that honours the score to a level that lifts the spirits. […] And what a score it is – and how searingly Antonio Pappano and the Royal Opera forces deliver it. In one of the great opening nights at Covent Garden everyone gave a red-hot performance … (Mark Valencia, WhatsOnStage, 2 Mai 2015)

What a joy it is to see staged here a work, which, like Janáček’s bizarrely ignored operas, is no longer than it need be, and so handsomely repays attention in every minute of its mere ninety. (Mark Berry, Boulezian, 2 May 2015)

It’s easy to be seduced by the beauty of Szymanowski’s orchestral writing, to wallow in its iridescent colours and rich harmonic palette, and forgive the work’s dramatic thinness and the lack of substance in all of the characters but Roger. […] What the performance confirms, however, is the beauty of much of the music. (Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 3 May 2015)

So this Covent Garden staging, which runs until May 19, was a must-see. […] The orchestral sound was ravishing, the chorus strong but supple. (Michael White, The New York Times, 4 May 2015)

Król Roger is in this sense an ideal opera because, as in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, its dramatic content is quite literally heard through the music. And what tremendous music it is, subtly and exotically scored with moments of bewitching beauty and earth-shattering power. (Guy Dammann, The Spectator, 9 May 2015)

The 90-minute work opens at twilight and ends at sunrise, providing a blazing climax with an aria, sung by Roger himself, to the sun. Simon Rattle, Mark Elder and others have championed it as a masterpiece. (Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, 10 May 2015)

Kasper Holten’s highly acclaimed staging of King Roger is currently running at the Royal Opera House.

The full performance of Karol Szymanowski’s opera can be viewed from 16 May on Opera Europa:

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