• Król Roger: Three Weeks To Go

slide-imageEarlier this week I signed off the proof for my little Szymanowski biography for the new production of Król Roger (King Roger) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  It’s quite a challenge to encapsulate ‘the life and work’ in under 2000 words, not least when the other, more subject-specific essays have not been seen.  But it’s a good discipline and the publications staff at the ROH are superb.  Now I have three weeks before the first night (1 May) to prepare my pre-opera talk that I am giving on five of the six nights (1, 9, 12, 16 and 19 May; no room = no talk on 6 May).

If you can’t get to any of the performances, all is not lost.  As the ROH website indicates:

The full performance of Król Roger can be viewed from Saturday 16 May 2015 on the ROH website, on YouTube and on the Opera Europa Digital Platform, a new website to be launched early May that will showcase live streams and a range of behind-the-scenes footage from 15 opera houses across Europe.

I gave a talk at an ROH ‘Insight’ evening on Król Roger exactly two years before the first performance of this run, sharing the billing with a discussion between Kasper Holten (Director), Steffen Aarling (Designer) and John Lloyd Davies (Dramaturg).  Theirs was a fascinating exchange because the production was in its infancy, and much had yet to be worked out.  Holten’s main preoccupation was with the ending, and I am very curious to see how he deals with this key yet enigmatic moment.

A couple of nights ago I caught a repeat (from 2010) of the third programme in BBC4’s The Normans.  In this episode, Robert Bartlett looked at the Normans in the Mediterranean, and King Roger II of Sicily was featured in the central part of the programme.  It struck me yet again what an extraordinary man he was – regarded by some as a tyrannical upstart, he was a believer in religious freedom and tolerance, with a thirst for knowledge and enlightenment.  Then there are the architectural monuments.  He was so full of self-belief that he had himself portrayed being crowned not by the Pope but by Christ.  I can see why Roger and his Sicily were so attractive to Szymanowski, however much the opera takes Roger’s personality into a totally imagined though not implausible direction. Martorana_RogerII For all his controversial qualities, Roger still seems to be woefully under-appreciated outside academic circles (a bit like Szymanowski a few decades ago).  There are a few studies fairly readily available:

• John Julius Norwich, The Kingdom in the Sun (1970; reprinted Faber & Faber, 2010)
• Hubert Houben, transl.  Graham A. Loud and Diane Milburn, Roger II of Sicily. A Ruler between East and West (Cambridge UP, 2002)
• Graham A. Loud, Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily (Manchester UP, 2012)

For those with access to BBC iPlayer, Normans in the South is available until 6 May, or thereabouts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: