When: June 1 and 2, 10am to 4pm
Location: El Rancho de las Golondrinas
The Santa Fe Opera Presents
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King Roger Is Conquering the World of Opera. Find Out Why.
What happens when your life experiences — even unexpected, mystical insights — fly in the face of your political responsibilities? Exploring this fascinating conflict, the masterwork King Roger by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski was first performed in 1926, but waited more than 60 years to be seen in the Americas. Now the magnetic appeal of its music and its philosophically challenging story have been winning new admirers on both sides of the Atlantic. Singing the 12th-century Sicilian King Roger confounded by a chance encounter is one of its premier interpreters, Mariusz Kwiecien. William Burden is the shepherd-prophet who plunges a kingdom into turmoil.
Composed by Karol Szymanowski
Sung in Polish with English and Spanish Opera Titles
Performed without an intermission.
In medieval Sicily, in the realm of King Roger and his wife Roxana, the arrival of a mysterious Shepherd has spurred rumors and disturbed everyday life. When he interrupts Sunday Mass with news of his strange songs and his worship of an unknown deity, there is outrage; advisors and congregants urge Roger to imprison him as a heretic. But Roxana feels drawn to the newcomer, comparing the power his radiant smile to the sun. Seeking to learn more of the Shepherd’s strange beliefs, Roger resists calls for his punishment and permits him to speak in the cathedral. The Shepherd describes a God whose path to enlightenment is through joy, lust and pleasure — a God “as youthful and beautiful as I am.”
Who is this man? Though his words do not answer the mystery, they clearly have a dangerous, magnetic appeal for some — including Roxana, whose fascination is tinged with the erotic. He promises an ecstatically charged new freedom, but the worshipers struggle to continue in their disciplined observance of the Mass. Roger, calling for silence, tells the Shepherd to return for trial that evening. The congregation’s stunned reaction of fear and inner conflict seems to feed the Shepherd’s power over them. “Remember,” he warns Roger, “you call for me yourself.”
With the trusted advisor and scholar Edrisi by his side, Roger awaits the Shepherd with foreboding. Locked in a test of wills and influence, he feels he is losing his kingly influence and even the loyalty of Roxana, who pleads passionately for Roger to show clemency toward the stranger. The Shepherd arrives for his trial and describes himself as a messenger of God who learned his faith in the East, and whose followers are drawn to his smile, singing and dancing. Roger, appalled, denounces the Shepherd as empowered by the forces of hell — a heretic who would lead his followers to perdition.
With the opposing philosophies in sharp relief, a Dionysian dance spontaneously erupts among the trial’s onlookers, led by the Shepherd. Roxana joins in, and Roger is possessed by a terrifying vision: he feels he is witnessing the disintegration of his own body. When he orders that the Shepherd be captured, his command seems to go unnoticed, and the Shepherd mockingly invites Roger to follow him as well. Eventually everyone except Edrisi joins the dancing followers of this strange new religion — even Roger, spurring the Shepherd to announce that “the King became the pilgrim.”
As night falls on Roger and Edrisi, Roger has been transformed. Describing himself as a vagrant and a beggar — like a wandering shepherd, perhaps — he no longer sees the physical world or the trappings of statehood as real. He calls out for Roxana, but the Shepherd appears instead, and his words are accompanied by the glow of moonlight in a display of seemingly divine power. Bewildered, Roger is unsure of Roxana’s reality when she appears; when she tries to lead him back to their palace, reassuring him that the Shepherd has gone, he does not know what to believe.
Are Roger and his state destroyed or enlightened? When Roxana attempts to persuade him to join the Shepherd’s religious following, the Shepherd reappears as the god Dionysus and Roger offers up a sacrifice to him. As the Shepherd calls out to his believers, Roxana seeks to follow him to “the land of rapture.” They leave Roger in solitude; as the dawn breaks, the dying Roger offers himself up to the light of the rising sun.
8:30 pm performances: July 21, 25
8:00 pm performances: August 3, 9, 14