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|Robert Gierlach, Thomas Hampson, Elzbieta Szmytka|
Krol Roger · Symphony No.4
Szymanowski was concerned with philosophical and moral questions as well as writing music, and King Roger (completed in 1926) is an opera of ideas rather than events, centering on the eternal conflict between Apollo and Di... more »
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Szymanowski was concerned with philosophical and moral questions as well as writing music, and King Roger (completed in 1926) is an opera of ideas rather than events, centering on the eternal conflict between Apollo and Dionysus, between reason and the unconscious. The action (such as it is) takes place on a single night: a mysterious shepherd appears at the court of Roger, the enlightened 12th-century King of Sicily, and leads the people and Roger's beloved wife, Roxana, in an orgiastic dance and then off to a "Land of Ecstasy"; the shepherd reveals himself as the god Dionysus, but Roger, while accepting him, turns in the end to the rising sun of Apollo. The music is fervent, harmonically dense, and richly impressionistic, the chorus plays a significant role, and Rattle's Birmingham forces are excellent in this production. However, the singers are no more than adequate; the ubiquitous Thomas Hampson seems uncomfortable with the Polish text, Elzbieta Szmytka lacks the warmth and sensuality required for Roxana, and Ryszard Minkiewicz's sweet tenor is too light for the shepherd-god. The set is filled out by a splendid performance of Symanowski's 4th Symphony, with Leif Ove Andsnes outstanding at the piano, in better sound than the opera. --Alex Morin
An Exotic Masterpiece
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 01/30/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"King Roger has one of the more interesting stories among modern opera. This updating of Dionysus spreading his new religion is reminiscent of the story of Pentheus except King Roger is overcome by the beauty and mystery of the new religion. The orchestration is exotic and lush, and Simon Rattle and his City of Birmingham Orchestra play the score beautifully with every nuance present.I have to agree, in general, with the opinion of the reviewers here that the singing leaves something to be desired. Ryszard Minkiewicz as the shepherd/Dionysus sings as if his voice is often almost strained to cracking. Elbieta Szmytka as Roxana sings quite beautifully for the majority of the opera and on occasion the vibrato in her voice becomes too much. Thomas Hampson, I think truly captures King Roger and is the highlight of this recording. I cannot agree that he has difficulty with the Polish language and is in excellent voice for the entire opera. I have read the Gramophone review that was mentioned by another reviewer and I would agree that it is generous in the singing department. Perhaps more astonishing is that this King Roger was voted the best opera recording for the 1999 awards. I am not sure what criteria were examined in making this decision but perhaps it was the fact that this opera is rarely heard, and needs to be performed more often, that Gramophone reviewers championed it. Overall, the recording is beautifully done and if one can get by the singing of Minkiewicz it is a rewarding experience. The Symphony No. 4 compliments the opera's lush orchestration and so is marvelous filler. This is music that can transport you indeed."
A new enthusiasm
Thomas F. Dillingham | Columbia, Missouri USA | 07/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have only recently encountered this opera, having acquired Rattle's recording a few weeks ago and, since, having also bought and listened to the Naxos recording. That fact may indicate that I consider this little-known opera a major find--sumptuous, passionate, a work that I will return to many times, I am sure, and would love to see produced. I decided to comment here because I really cannot agree with either of the earlier comments. It is probably true that a Polish speaker would find Hampson's singing of that language a bit uncomfortable--I am not competent to judge that. But his singing is, as I always find it, sensitive and intelligent, and though he does not throw himself into characterization (as does Andrzej Hiolski on the Naxos set), he projects a clear sense of the dramatic conflict confronted by King Roger. I also cannot concur with the condemnation of Szmytka's Roxana. Her voice is light but well-controlled and she manages to negotiate the vocal line effectively. True, it would be interesting to hear, for example, Renee Fleming in the role, but I find this Roxana completely satisfying. (Barbara Zagorzanka, on the Naxos set, has a bigger and broader voice, but is very wiry in the upper register--I don't object to it, but her sound is also not the kind of warm, sensuous quality that seems to be desired.) I would agree that the tenor singing the Shepherd is not outstanding (but neither is the corresponding role on the Naxos disk, though that tenor is stronger overall.) On the whole, this recording is a powerful and beautiful introduction to a superb opera. I think most opera lovers would find it much more than satisfactory."
Assault of the sensuous...
Eric D. Anderson | South Bend, IN United States | 07/14/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Szymanowski is truly an original composer, and "Krol Roger" is a work that boggles the mind with it's endlessly surprising originality. Szymanowski takes the qualities that I admire most in music--extreme chromaticism, imaginative use of orchestral color, obsessive atmosphere, and terrible romantic yearning, and pushes them all up a notch. In some of his music, these qualities are so intense that the music almost loses direction, but not so with "Krol Roger". He gets it just right. The story is strange and mysterious. He's obviously getting at something. The traditional explanation is that it's about his homosexuality, but it's interesting to note that against the will of his librettist, Szymanowski has King Roger resist the call of the shepherd, and instead he yearns for his lost wife.I'm not an expert on singing. I know when I enjoy it, and I enjoyed this recording immensly. The sound is also of the highest order. The filler is nice, too, but from a later period in Szymanowski's music that is a little more toned down."