Thursday, 26 June 2014

King Roger - Wuppertal Opera - 26 June 2014

Roger II, King of Sicily – Kay Stiefermann 
Roxane, his wife – Banu Böke 
Edrisi, an Arabian scholar – Christian Sturm 
Shepherd – Rafal Bartminski 
Archbishop – Martin Js. Ohu 
Deaconess – Joslyn Rechter 
Opera Chorus, Extra Chorus and Statisterie of Wuppertaler Bühnen 
Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra

Conductor– Florian Frannek
Director – Jakob Peters-Messer
Set design – Markus Meyer
Costumes – Sven Bindseil
Chorus master – Jens Bingert
Dramaturge – Johannes BBlum

Szymanowski's plot for his operatic masterpiece is an unusual one in that each of its three acts stages an encounter between the shepherd and the king in a different setting without much in the way of conventional action. Jacob Peters-Messer has taken the ingenious route of turning these confrontations into a series of analytic sessions, acting out dreams of Roger's obsession with the Dionysian figure, in which Edrisi, as the king's psychoanalysist, finally frees his mind from its troubles. The problem with this approach, though, is that it is also suggesting the rather distasteful idea that any homosexual feelings Roger has for the shepherd have been expunged by the same method. Surely the idea of the composer's resolution is that he has learnt to reconcile conflicting obsessions rather than destroy them (Peters-Messer even has Roger strangle the shepherd as an act of release).

Markus Meyer's single set (the three acts are performed without interval) is shaped like the inside of a kaleidoscope, with the images projected onto its rear 'lense' reflecting along its length towards the front of the stage. It cleverly suggests the dreamlike setting (shades of Hitchcock's Vertigo) and at the same time provides effective, all-encompassing scenic imagery.
With the singers tightly directed, almost choreographed at times, the interactions were vividly drawn. Kay Stiefermann's Roger was gripping in its focus, no more so than in the final bars, when standing in front of the curtain his words seemed almost personally addressed. His baritone was varied in tonal colour and he brought a Lieder-like detail to the Polish text. Banu Bike was equally seductive a performer, singing Roxane's famous aria with refulgent tone. I warmed less to the sometimes effortful tenor of Rafal Bartminski - the one Pole in the cast - as the shepherd, despite an appropriately lascivious stage presence, and he was even out sung by the lesser tenor role of Edrisi - the cool and collected Christian Sturm.

The chorus, including some rather fidgety children in Act I, sang with imposing weight and the orchestra under Florian Frannek played its heart out in those most miraculous of operatic scores.

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