Antonio Pappano will be conducting the Accademia’s Orchestra and Chorus on 5 – 7 and 9 October, with an international cast (Lukasz Golinski, Lauren Fagan, Edgaras Montvidas, Marco Spotti, Helena Rasker, and Kurt Azesberger), for King Roger by Karol Szymanowski – the most important Polish composer after Chopin, consigned to history thanks to a work written in 1924, set after the year 1000 in Sicily, during the reign of the Norman King Roger of Hauteville. As an integral part of the staging, the production will feature projections and direct interaction with the musical storytelling and the libretto. The visual design is entrusted to the direction of the artistic duo MASBEDO formed by Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni, considered among the most interesting video artists on the international landscape, who will make live filming an integral part of the of the production, with images serving to portray the psychological experience of the opera’s protagonists.
The subject of King Roger is the conflict between the Christian Church of Medieval Sicily and a pagan cult that exalted beauty and pleasure, proclaimed by a young shepherd/prophet.
It is essentially a Nietzschean reimagining of The Bacchae by Euripides, in which Roger (Pentheus) emerges in the end “strong enough for freedom,” having defeated within himself the enriching but dangerous forces of Dionysus.
Mass is being celebrated in a church. The Archbishop and the abbess wonder about why people are leaving the Church; the wise Edrisi intervenes, providing a description of the shepherd responsible for the spread of a new religion. The Archbishop pronounces severe words of condemnation, but Queen Roxana intercedes, so that the shepherd is given the possibility to explain himself. The shepherd’s arrival completely quiets the atmosphere. He proclaims his belief and abandons himself to praising love and beauty; Attracted by this, Roxana joins him in song. Roger’s call for silence suddenly breaks the ecstatic atmosphere; the King lets the shepherd go and gives him an appointment at the palace that very night.
In the middle of the starry night, in the palace courtyard, Roger and Edrisi are waiting. Followed by his disciples, the shepherd, heralded from afar by the playing of tambourine and zither, arrives and salutes the King in the name of eternal love: he speaks of the new religion and its origins, and calls for music and dancing; all the shepherd’s disciples – along with Roxana – join him. Once again, the King’s voice puts an end to this ecstasy; an attempt to chain the shepherd is unsuccessful, and the shepherd can leave the place, followed by his disciples and by Roxana, as if in a dream. The King, alone, sets down his crown and mantle, and joins the others.
Led by Edrisi, the King reaches the ruins of a Greek amphitheatre; he calls Roxana and she responds: she welcomes him, because he has entered the Kingdom of love humbly and unarmed. On the altar placed at the centre of the amphitheatre, the shepherd appears in the guise of the god Dionysus; everyone is transformed into Bacchae, dryads, and satyrs. As the night draws to a close, the King salutes Apollo in the rising sun: everyone is gone and he is left alone – reborn and enriched by the credo of Dionysus, without having become his follower.