King Roger

Karol Szymanowski

  • Part 1

    1 h 10 min.

  • Intermission

    30 min.

  • Part 2

    30 min.

Duration: 2 h 10 min.

Opera in three acts
Libretto: Karol Szymanowski, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz
World premiere: 19 June 1926, Warsaw
Premiere of this production: 2 December 2018, Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Co-producted by: Royal Swedish Opera; National Theatre, Prague
In the original Polish with English surtitles
Please note the production uses strobes. 

The imagination was on fire, stimulated by the Mediterranean heat and the mysterious legends of an Italian island. The creation of a fairy-tale world inspired by medieval Sicily took place at the time when in the south of Russia, in Ukraine, in Yelisavetgrad, Odessa and Tymoszówka – the composer’s lost family estate – the war was raging on. For Szymanowski and his cousin, Iwaszkiewicz – the author of the libretto – ‘coming up with illusory worlds’ constituted a hope for survival in this difficult time. The world premiere of King Roger was held at Teatr Wielki in Warsaw, after two years of Szymanowski’s efforts. It was to be the crowing point of his fascination with antiquity and the oriental world, but it turned out to be a disaster. Mariusz Treliński’s production of King Roger enthralled the audiences in Warsaw, Wrocław, Saint Petersburg and Edinburgh. Years later, he returns to it once more with a new staging based on the dramaturgy of Piotr Gruszczyński. As usual, he follows the music – sharp, expressive and beautiful. At times Dionysian, although closer to ice than the Sun. He constructs his world with the sophisticated imagery of the indefectible Boris Kudlička. Who will Szymanowski’s hero turn out to be today – a confident ruler, a happy husband, a man who thought he had it all, clashing with a powerful force that will undermine his achievements and force him to re-evaluate his entire life? As usual, Treliński elicits from the character expanses of his fragility. He astonishes and ventures into painful territories. He takes the viewer out of his comfort zone, away from what is safe and predictable.

Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Dancers, actors, and children of the Artos Children’s Choir




  • ,

    Part One

    Roger’s cry breaks the silence and stillness. Is the nightmare over, or is it only just beginning? Choral singing praising God and the ruler can be heard. Roger listens to it alone. He tries to recover, but evil spectres still haunt him. He sees himself dead, being prepared for his solemn funeral. The council is under way. It turns out that Roger’s well-organized state is at risk. There appeared a mysterious Shepherd, who proclaims a new faith, gaining followers. State dignitaries, including representatives of the Church, demand that Roger imprison and punish the Shepherd. They call for the death penalty. Roxana, Roger’s wife, nonchalantly persuades him to meet the newcomer and give him a fair trial. Roger orders that the Shepherd be brought to him. The Shepherd suddenly appears in the middle of the council meeting, unnoticed by anyone. He appears as if from nowhere and suspends reality for a moment. Only Roger can see him. He asks questions. The Shepherd speaks of the God who has sent him: ‘My God is beautiful as I am’. This God is a free god of love and liberation. The Shepherd takes control of the situation. Wonders begin to happen. Little tricks and big matters, capriciously impermanent, like healing the paralysed Deaconess. Roger loses control over the situation. Roger’s men are going mad. Even Roxana crosses over to the newcomer’s side. Provoked, Roger begins to impulsively assault the Shepherd. Everyone is immersed in an orgy of aggression. Terrified, Roger stops this dangerous situation. He cries, ‘Enough!’, and brings the world back to normal. The Shepherd disappears, at least for the time being. When Roger is left alone, the Shepherd appears again, this time in the mirror, announcing his arrival. The password for the guards is ‘Shepherd’. The Shepherd is to answer ‘Roger’. Identities become exchanged. Roger and the Shepherd have become one in the mirror reflection. A night of uneasiness has fallen. Roger dozes off and stirs up, waiting for the Shepherd. Edrisi is with him, they talk about Roxana. He asks Roger how long it had been ‘since he sought Roxana’s lips in rapture?’. Instead of the answer appears Roxana, in ecstasy. She asks for mercy for the Shepherd. Roger is terrified, Edrisi seems to understand her. Each of them experiences the reality differently. For Roxana, it is a night of peace and harmony, for Roger – that of extreme tension. In the distance, the password ‘Shepherd’ can be heard. The inevitable is approaching. The Shepherd appears in the mirror and greets Roger in ‘the name of great love’. His presence is multiplied. Interrogated by Roger, he gives increasingly bold answers, he says he has been sent by God. The world becomes suspicious all around. People from Roger’s surroundings fall into ecstasy. Roxana keeps pleading for mercy for the Shepherd. A strange triangle is created in which Roxana gradually approaches the Shepherd. Roger loses his space, his wife, his people. In a hallucinatory vision, the Shepherd appears in the ritual outfit of the Goat, and is joined by Roxana, now adorned by horns. The mystery announced by the Shepherd begins. Roger is to be sacrificed. He finds himself on a table that turns into an altar. His body is quartered. He becomes a blood- bath for Roxana and his associates. Roger, who is both a participant and an observer of this scene, interrupts it, ordering that the Shepherd be captured. But one cannot capture someone whose existence is doubtful. Exhausted, Roger falls to the ground. He loses his strength, he weakens. The Shepherd calmly looks at his agony. He invites the dying man to himself, ‘to his sunlit shore’. Once the Shepherd has left, Edrisi appears. He hears Roger’s last words: ‘The King has become a pilgrim!’. 

  • ,

    Part Two

    The next stage of Roger’s spiritual journey takes place after his death. In a terrifyingly white space, Roger remains in lethargy. ‘Around me lifeless stones, the gray-blue infinity of the seas.’ In empty mirror frames there appear characters from Roger’s life. They are deformed, threatening, grotesque: the Deaconess and Archbishop, the murderous Goat, blood-soaked Roxana. Figures from the past try to arrange a code of the future. Roger – washed out of any feelings, autistic, empty – walks around in a maze of reflections. A calling can be heard: ‘Call, call, awaken!’. Roger loudly calls out Roxana’s name, but only the Shepherd’s voice answers him. Finally, Roxana appears, summoned by Roger. She is with child. She returns, assuring her husband of her love. Roger is anxious about the Shepherd; he suspects Roxana has had a relationship with him. The game of distrust and attraction revolves around Roxana’s pregnancy. Has Roger been reborn in her womb? Does he have a chance of rebirth through death? They fall into each other’s arms. The final mystery of sacrifice and rebirth begins. Led by the Shepherd’s voice, Roger heads towards illumination and transformation. ‘From the abyss of my might, I will tear out my clear heart, and offer it to the Sun!’. Roger meets himself. The full moon has become flesh.

  • Financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland as part of the NIEPODLEGŁA programme for 2017–2022.

  • Produced in association with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme and the Polska 100 programme, an international cultural programme marking the centenary of the recovery of Polish independence.


  • Patron of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Logo Perlage
  • Logo Sisley
  • Logo Albert Riele
  • Partners of the reception

  • Logo PVA
  • Co-produced with:

  • Media patrons