Mariusz Kwiecien and Erin Morley in "King Roger" at the Santa Fe Opera, photo: Ken Howard
Reviewers unite in their awe at the music from Karol Szymanowski, and numerous articles praise Mariusz Kwiecień's bold performance of the title role
US reviewers all take care to note how difficult, mysterious and unconventional King Roger is as a work of opera. While some blame falls on the director for failing to bring out all of the assets of Szymanowski's oeuvre, the reviews of principal soloist Mariusz Kwiecień are glowing. The beautiful, richly-toned voice of the Polish-born baritone gives the score an unmistakably stirring quality.
The Santa Fe Reporter has declared that King Roger was "Kwiecień's show", with the King's performance taking on more colour and body with each minute of the performance, right up to the beautifully sung final ode to the sun - the opera's climax.
Anthony Tommasini, the guru of American music critics was also present at the show. His review for the New York Times balances between admiration for the actual piece and Szymanowski's musical genius, - "I am more baffled about why this mystical, sumptuous and daring Polish opera, which had its premiere in Warsaw in 1926, remains such a rarity." and a critique of a "disappointingly tame" staging of the opera.
The final paragraph of his aricle thus sums up Tommasini's impression of the production:
"King Roger" poses a dangerous question: What would we do if we could do anything? Perhaps it would be too easy for a director to turn loose a lot of scantily clad choristers for the dances of ecstasy. Mr. Wadsworth presents real people under temptation. Still, his production is just not dangerous enough.
An enthusiastic note in the Financial Times states that "Szymanowski’s opulently expressionistic King Roger has stunned audiences in several venues", and awards four in five stars to the Sante Fe programme. FT's music critic George Loomis goes on to state in his review:
King Roger (sung in Polish) is one of those operas from the 1920s that can strike some as over the top, yet it draws listeners in just as surely as its mysterious Shepherd (Dionysus in disguise) captivates the inhabitants of 12th-century Sicily. In pitting the Shepherd against insecure King Roger, the opera retells Euripides’ Bacchae while omitting its lurid violence. Stephen Wadsworth’s probing production finds King Roger troubled from the start, mistrustful of his wife Roxana and appalled yet fascinated by the Shepherd. Characters sometimes communicate simply by looking into each other’s eyes.
The music itself garnered unwavering acclaim. Journalists attempt to juxtapose Szymanowski with his contemporaries. The Polish composer is compared to Schriabin and Ravel (Santa Fe Reporter), Debussy and Bartok (Santa Fe New Mexican) as well as Richard Strauss and Berg (San Francisco's Classical Music Blog).
Evan Register, the young conductor who led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra through the performance of King Roger, also met with an enthusiastic reception. He was described as having been able to maintain a balance between a shocking splendour of the music and its delicate luminousity (Santa Fe New Mexican).
It is difficulf to predict with certitude what impact this production will have on the presence of Szymanowski's music on American stages. One may hope that the charismatic energy and bold talent of Mariusz Kwiecień will bear fruit, and King Roger shall enjoy its first production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Mariusz Kwiecień (born 1972) discovered thecaptivating charm of King Roger several years ago when he was cast in Krzysztof Warlikowski's staging of the opera for performances in Paris and Madrid. He has since become its most enthusiastic proponents, urging programme directors across the world to include the work in their repertoire. Santa Fe Opera General Director Charles MacKay required little convincing and soon made a place for it on the summer programme, remarking upon its "rich, exotic score". Kwiecień made his mark on the opera world with his performances in Don Giovanni on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Now that he has a solid position in the opera world, he's pushing for his own ideas, as he explained in an interview with Poland's Polityka Magazine. He has called King Roger "the best Polish opera ever written"