The European music of the turn of the century is marked by the rush sound. In the succession of Richard Wagner, the orchestra pedal becomes the medium of excessive sound staging. The word "sound" itself takes on a magical meaning.
The Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, who was born in 1882, the year Wagner died, must also be counted among the sound erotomens. If we ignore the Polish creative period of Szymanowski, many of his works are absolute sound maniatures. His opera King Roger is no exception.
On his travels to Italy and North Africa between 1908 and 1914, Szymanowski succumbed to the fascination of these countries and collected a great deal of material, which was reflected in King Roger. According to its genre, opera stands in the mysterious "no man's land" between opera, oratorio and mystery play. In the three acts of the opera, Szymanowski captured three different cultures - partly based on authentic musical material: Byzantism, the Arab-Indian Orient, and Greco-Roman antiquity.
The plot itself is rooted in Euripides' "Bacchantes" and depicts in three oratorio-like tableaux: the struggle between Apollo and Dionysus, between the intellect and the unconscious, and between the Christian church in medieval Sicily and the pagan faith.
The libretto that Szymanowski wrote together with Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz can only be traced back to historical facts regarding the persons of King Roger II, who ruled over Sicily from 1130 to 1154, and his advisor. Although the plot refers to typical counter-events of the time, it is fictitious as such.
What is decisive for this opera is that Szymanowski proves to be an absolute master of ecstasy, mysticism and misterioso.
Karol Szymanowski's opera King Roger is currently running at the Graz Opera House. The new production is staged by Holger Müller-Brandes and the performances are directed by Roland Kluttig and Robin Engelen.
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