|Mariusz Kwiecien and Erin Morley|
Szymanowski's King Roger at the Santa Fe Opera was sensitively conducted by Evan Rogister and beautifully played by the Santa Fe Orchestra; the strong yet lyrical singing of baritone Mariusz Kwiecien made the Polish libretto as easy on the ears as Italian; the thrilling coloratura sounds of soprano Erin Morley remained constant throughout her entire register; the colorful costuming of Ann Hould-Ward was particularly apt with the exception of that for the Shepherd; Stephen Wadsworth's direction did its best with what is essentially a plotless drama.
The story, such as it is, concerns an inner journey of a medieval king of Sicily whom Mr. Kwiecien portrays as melancholy and disaffected, rebuffing the tender concerns of his Queen Roxana. Enter the mysterious Shepherd who is supposed to be so compellingly Dionysian that he seduces the conservative members of the congregation who initially want him imprisoned as an heretic. Roxana easily falls under his spell and even King Roger, for a time being. The problem is that tenor William Burden is just not mysterious and compelling; his clunky costume does nothing to help. In spite of a fine voice, we just could not fall under his spell. A slender youth with magnetic eyes might have done the trick. Laura Wilde was fine as the Deaconess and Raymond Aceto as the Archbishop. Dennis Petersen made a fine Edrisi, the King's advisor.
The apprentices in the chorus, under the guidance of Susanne Sheston opened the piece with a memorable chorale. Thomas Lynch's set was perfect in evoking a medieval church. Peggy Hickey's choreography was fine as far as it went, but there was plenty of room for more eroticism. The lovely lighting was by Duane Schuler.We were given to understand that the composer, sharing the duties of writing the libretto with Jaroslaw Ivvaszkiewicz was working through his own inner struggle with homoeroticism. He wrote some lovely music but left us in the audience a trifle unfulfilled by the vagueness of the story; we wondered whether the final act was supposed to be a dream. The revised program notes were not as helpful as they were probably intended to be. The dreamlike story would likely appeal to those members of the audience who love Pelleas et Melisande. The rest of us left with happy ears but baffled expressions. Nonetheless, we praise the Santa Fe Opera for taking a risk with a rarely heard opera.
- (c) meche kroop