30th April famous Polish opera composed by Karol Szymanowski, appeared at the Kraków Opera. Directed by Michał Znaniecki in collaboration with set designer- Luigi Scoglio. King Roger abounds with different topics, understatements and allusions. Znaniecki tried to find one crystal-clear point of view, giving the audience a chance to understand it deeply and find something for themselves. He focused the action on the main character- King Roger and created some kind of a mirror. Shepherd, Roxana as well as Edrisi were King’s Roger reflections, showing his “inner battle”, emotions, fragile identity. The director, once again, was not afraid of creating the real world at the stage, provoking the audience and asking questions, bringing the issue of Roger’s homosexuality to the fore.
This modern staging is not so distant from classic Szymanowski’s vision. It bases on symbols. The Cathedral is Roger’s house- his “temple”, inner world. Sitting at the table with his wife (Roxana) and son, reading the newspaper. At the back- the “court”, people wearing long black coats, listening to Roger’s words, being guided by him. Everything surrounded by multiplied obelisks (like this from Space Odyssey), with glimmering, changing colors words (in different languages) written on them- symbol of wisdom, knowledge. In the foreground- scrolled red “bible”-one more important symbol. Shepherd comes in, Roger invites him to join them at the table- it’s a kind of invitation to his “safe” world. But Shepherd takes a step further- comes in the foreground and stands at the unscrolled bilbe (it opens as he tells his story- “my God is as beautiful as me” ). Roger leaves his table and joins him. And then they kiss… “Horror! Dismay!” Roger is concerned, he looks like if he does not know what he has done. Shepherd leaves, leaving him alone, surrounded by “court”, Edrisi, son and Roxana. Everyone- shocked, Roxana showing no emotions. She does not even care about his touch, being “limp” in his hands.
Second act reveals even more hidden emotions. Just the beginning- “court” destroying the bible (appeared in previous act)- walking on it, destroying, sweeping the place where it was located- it does not care, it is not about us, it is not us, we do not see it, we have to hide it… But, the same time-wearing red sashes. What a grotesque… This “it” is a part of them. Everyone hides something and tries to find themselves. Like Roger, hearing Roxana’s aria. She appears in the back, wearing red dress, climbing the “ladder”, falling down, and once again, like a mantra. Roger hesitates, waiting for a Shepherd. The more he feels, the more Roxanas appear behind his back. They are like his thoughts, hidden emotions. One more time- red color. Color of desire, anger, love, mystery, secret, hidden meaning… Everyone can interpret it differently. Another scene- Shepherd comes in, Roger showing a kind of release, but still passionate and wanting “forbidden” love. And then- an exciting, sensual dance of Roxanas (choreography- Diana Theocharidis). But they are not “real”. The real one comes and pulls the wigs out of their heads- they are men. Music rises… Roger desperately putting wigs (back) on the heads of false Roxanas- noone should see it. It is not me, it is not my reality. Or maybe- I have to hide it? Still a lot of emotions. His world collapses, like sculptures “smashed” on the stage. One after another. Six times. Another symbol? Of hidden hell? Shepherd won, standing in the rain (really monumental staging- smashed sculptures, collapsed Roger and rain pouring down…). Then „court” take off their coats, showing colorful costumes… Roger remains alone, with his son. The only one, who holds his hand… Who, actually, symbolizes- him? As a fragile “being”.
As if it was not enough, Znaniecki goes further- creating really convincing and clear act III of King Roger (found as the most “detached”, distant from whole plot). There the audience has a chance of meeting the mature Roger (30 years after) living like a beggar, still looking for (and desiring) a Shepherd. The obelisks (form act I)- collapsed (the wisdom- collapsed?). Roxana, appearing as a Hippie- “give me your hand, Roger “. But once again (like it was with Shepherd)- he cannot do it.. Who does he love? Who he is? What is his meaning of existence? And Roxana- what about her? What happened in her life? Was she happy about it? Noone knows. But there is- here and now. Edrisi singing about „dreamed dream”, “delusions”. Roger, trying to find a Shepherd, dying out of desperation, emotions. Because there is the only way of living his life- through the death. He rises from the dead (the same time one of wisdom’s obelisks rises too…), sees the sun- this is his freedom, his new way. He has finally found himself.
The staging, scenography was pretty impressive, as well as the whole symbolism. All fit together, creating a clear, interesting vision. Znaniecki tried to work with changeable colors, costumes, create Roges’s reflections in different characters (for example through the movement). Or maybe- we should interpret this staging in more “psychological” way. Like Freudian- Edrisi as Superego, Shepherd as Id, and Roxana as Roger’s Ego? It could be possible…
This “King Roger” did not answer composer’s questions, but gave a new way of answering and interpreting them. Szymanowski’s music got a fresh, deeper look. Also thanks to music director- Łukasz Borowicz and Kraków Opera Orchestra, which played quite passionate, not avoiding some insecure sounds (especially in the wood-wind section), but taking all in one- expressing emotionally, difficult music, created by Polish composer. The main character was Mariusz Kwiecień. His wide, strong and impressive baritone timbre convinced the audience, as well as the way he played the role of insecure, emotional, compassionate Roger. He got an enormous round of applause (and standing ovation), at the end. Roxana- Iwona Socha, showed a nice, delicate, round voice, with secure heights and pleasant register changes. Pavlo Tolstoy as Shepherd created a convincing character too, although his voice was sometimes covered by orchestra. One more important thing about that staging was lighting design (Bogumił Palewicz)- the light was telling the story, creating Roger’s emotions. And did it in the best, possible, way.
This time the audience could meet the real Roger, full of emotions, contradictions, fighting through every note and movement, for his freedom. Sexual and psychical freedom. Did he get it? In that setting- only Sun knows.