On Saturday night with D to OA’s King Roger for the third time – I had been for a second time on Tuesday with my old friend Ub.
Ub’s husband couldn’t go and, at the last minute she asked a friend, Nt. Ub thought Nt might be interested because Nt’s father was a musician and was Polish. Those proved to be tenuous grounds for an affinity: Nt left at interval, citing sciatica and declining my offer (in my opinion generous given that their days as an OTC remedy are numbered) of some codeine-enhanced paracetamol.
Ub thought the opera very dark. She didn’t mean the lighting. For most of the opera, King Roger seems to be chronically depressed and bewildered, much given to calling out the name of his wife, Roxana (initially just to shut her up but later as more of a cry for help). This was a bit odd, given that we also learn he hasn’t been, um, Rogering her [sorry, couldn’t help that] for a while and that didn’t look like Roxana’s decision.
Both of them (Rog and Rox) and the crowd are seduced by the mysterious shepherd, who turns out in the end to be Dionysus – not that that is particularly clear in this production. Male pole-dancers in rather brief trunks rise up and down the various levels of the Act II set which represents Roger’s mind. This in turn is a allegory/proxy for Szymanowski’s and indeed for all of our minds. It’s the human condition (Apollonian/Dionysian) but with added homoerotic overtones. At the end of the opera Roger has ostensibly confronted all of these dark desires and overcome them but it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to Roxana’s bed any time soon. Ub didn’t find the ending very convincing: she’s an author and perhaps she could sense some “tell” of Szymanowski’s rewrite (in his original Rog ran away with the shepherd).
I’m making fun of it all a bit here. The virtue of the production is that these themes (in human nature, the hero and the composer) are all laid out pretty clearly – if anything too clearly and schematically.
In Act III, the shepherd appears, supposedly (according to the libretto) as Dionysus but here dressed rather as Roger had been dressed at the beginning. There was probably a point to this – but it entailed a sacrifice of what the libretto says should be the opera’s grandest moment.
On the Tuesday I sat next to an [even] older [than I] gay (I assumed) gentleman who told me that My Fair Lady had been terrific and that he wasn’t really so keen on these “discordant” operas. I attempted to demur on the grounds that diatonic notions of discord and resolution were superseded in the musical language adopted, but I knew what he meant. In fact, the more I recognise the various melodic motifs on repeated hearings the less discordant the music seems. This must be linear harmony at work.
On Saturday, D and I sat next to a woman from a small town (1200 residents, she said) in Arkansas. She had just spent 3 days pre-cruise in Sydney and this was her first opera, ever. She stayed to the end.
I have warmed to Saimir Pirgu (the shepherd) and Michael Honeyman continues to impress. It’s a terrific workout for the orchestra.
There’s been a bit of price-cutting for the remaining performances and I’ve snapped up one more ticket for the last night.