Graeme Murphy already had demonstrated a notable rapport with the music of Karol Szymanowski, established first with Shining (1986) and later with Song of the Night (1987). When he decided to adapt the composer’s opera Krol Roger as a dance work in 1991; while still retaining its full operatic score, it was born of a great love for the composer’s work and for the Island of Sicily where Graeme Murphy had spent much of 1989 on sabbatical. In the premiere season of King Roger in the Opera Theatre at the Sydney opera House, the music was heard in Polish as a recorded version but subtitles were given above the proscenium of the stage giving the audience a clearer appreciation of the text. To that end, each character was sung, yet fully embodied on stage by the dancer playing the role, thus bringing the full force of the narrative to bear. Murphy often expressed his wish to one day to see it performed with live orchestra, singers and chorus. But it wasn’t to be.
Premiered in Warsaw in 1926, Szymanowksi’s opera could be regarded as a series of tableaux. The first Byzantine, the second Arabic-Indian and the last Hellenic. The choice of Sicily as the setting for this fantastical mystery play in itself confirms the extent of Szymanowski’s interest in this Mediterranean civilization, a fascination shared by Graeme Murphy. Embellished by the exoticism inherent in this passionate, although unhistorical story of a love triangle between the King, Roxana and The Shepherd, King Roger is also concerned with a contest of faiths. In fact, the King was lauded for embracing and celebrating all cultures and beliefs, welcoming diversity and creating an early multi-cultural society. Yet in the opera he is tested fully when his Queen and many of his followers embrace The Shepherd’s calling, with dramatic results. The rich lavish costumes were designed by Kristian Fredrikson.
“In a very real sense, King Roger was Sicily. His was the conception, his was the incentive; he and only he could have created the favourable climate that was a precondition of all the rest. Enlightened yet always discriminating, he was the first royal patron, focusing the efforts and energies of those around him, never once losing sight of his eternal objective – the greatness and glory of the Kingdom.”
Sections of Text by arrangement with the English National Opera Program
Karol Szymanowski 'Krol Roger'
Jaroslav Iwaszkiewicz and Karol Szymanowski
Set and Costume Design
Roderick Van Gelder
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