"Mariusz Kwiecien was resplendent in the title role."
— James Keller, The New Mexican
"This King Roger is an enchantment...in the New Mexico summer desert!"
— Out West Arts
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.
8:30 pm performances: July 21, 25
8:00 pm performances: August 3, 9, 14
Composed by Karol Szymanowski
Sung in Polish with English and Spanish Opera Titles
Performed without an intermission.
The cathedral. The people pray, and a noticeably listless, troubled King Roger enters with his queen, Roxana, and his closest adviser, Edrisi. The Archbishop and Deaconess call upon the King to imprison a shepherd, a charismatic man who has been celebrating an unknown god to the people. Feelings run high. Roxana insists that the man be brought before the king and considered fairly. Roger calls him in, but the people object: “Stone him! Burn him!” The Shepherd answers Roger’s questions with a description of his god, who, grapes in hand and wearing an ivy wreath, searches in the mountain pastures for lost souls—those who suffer alone in the night and yearn for a healing embrace, those who are enchained and long for freedom. Roxana shocks the assembly when she questions the Shepherd with genuine curiosity and excitement. Roger lashes out and condemns him to death. As the crowd calls for his head, the Shepherd tells Roger his god is merciful, Edrisi urges Roger to call a proper trial, and Roxana protests that there is something important and true in what the Shepherd says. Roger reverses his decision and banishes the Shepherd to the mountains. But when the Shepherd turns to leave, Roger suddenly stops him and commands him to come to his rooms that evening and stand trial. The air has changed in the cathedral, and Roger has come alive.
The King’s Rooms. Roger, highly anxious, awaits the arrival of the Shepherd. He fears the power in the Shepherd’s eyes but also is drawn to it. Edrisi, alluding to a long period in which Roger has been cut off from joy and pleasure, reminds Roger that it is the Shepherd who is on trial, not the King. They hear Roxana’s voice urging Roger’s tormented heart to open and be merciful. The Shepherd arrives. Roger questions him searchingly—Who is he? Where does his power come from? What do his converts believe in? The Shepherd responds with sensuous, compelling images that captivate but also terrify Roger. “They believe in me,” says the Shepherd, “They believe in my eyes that you so fear.” Courtiers gather, drawn to the Shepherd. Roger watches as they dance and chant with increasing wildness, then orders the Shepherd chained. But the Shepherd, calling for all who wish for true freedom to follow him, brings the crowd over to his side, including Roxana, who rhapsodically answers the call. The Shepherd dares Roger to come to his domain and continue the trial, then leaves with Roger’s people and his queen. Roger throws down crown, sword and mantle and sets off to find them.
The ruins of an ancient theater. Roger wanders with Edrisi. “Today,” he says, “the King is a vagabond who prays for help and hides his empty heart in the tattered shreds of his dreams.” When he calls out for Roxana in desperation, they hear her voice, but also the voice of the Shepherd, which awakens in Roger feelings of hatred and love—“Where is the end of doubt?” he asks Edrisi. Roxana appears, urging him to join her in exploring the Shepherd’s domain. Roger still resists, but she encourages him: the Shepherd, she says, is able to live in a world of sadness and conflict with a smile. Roger joins with her in a rite that brings the Shepherd: “My voice comes from your own heart,” he says to Roger. His followers draw Roger further into the rite, but Roger stops short of continuing on with them. Day comes. Roger greets the sun, alone but for Edrisi, with a purified heart.
- Roxana - Erin Morley
- Shepherd - William Burden
- Edrisi - Dennis Petersen
- King Roger - Mariusz Kwiecien
- Archbishop - Raymond Aceto
- Conductor - Evan Rogister
- Director - Stephen Wadsworth
- Scenic Designer - Thomas Lynch
- Costume Designer - Ann Hould-Ward
- Lighting Designer - Duane Schuler
- Choreographer - Peggy Hickey