Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House sing Szymanowski

'One of the most worthwhile recent operatic DVDs'

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski
WORKS: Król Roger
PERFORMER: Mariusz Kwiecie´n, Georgia Jarman, Saimir Pirgu, Kim Begley; Royal Opera Chorus; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano; dir. Kasper Holten (Royal Opera House, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: OA 1161D; Blu-ray: OABD 7162D

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Last season’s highlight at Covent Garden, Król Roger’s appearance on screen is exceptionally welcome. Szymanowski’s fascinating yet compact masterpiece bears repeated viewing and listening, for there is so much going on both in this performance and the work itself. The atmospheric choral opening – growing out of darkness – was effective in the theatre but is even more striking here; throughout there is a sense of detail that perhaps disappeared into the huge stage picture at Covent Garden. Dominated by a giant head, the staging gives us at least figuratively the three main settings for each of the acts – church, study and amphitheatre – and the costumes update the action, if that is the word, from the 12th-century Sicily of the original scenario to the time of composition in the 1920s. Encountered close up, all the imagination of Kasper Holten’s production coheres compellingly, and Antonio Pappano shapes an extremely lucid performance that somehow manages to be taut and lush at the same time. Mariusz Kwiecie´n’s warm account of the title role shows why he has become today’s ruling King Roger, and Saimir Pirgu is suitably seductive as the Shepherd. Best of all, as Roxana, Georgia Jarman shows how the queen’s Act II vocalise can be one of the most beautiful arias in all opera.

Given the work’s complexity and its relative rarity, the extras are valuable too. Pappano talks through the score at the piano, his illustrations laying bare the haunting sadness at the heart of this richly coloured score. This was his first creative collaboration with Holten, ROH colleagues together, and they make a good double act commenting on all the ideas in the music and drama. The result is one of the most worthwhile recent operatic DVDs.

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John Allison