The huge male head that dominates the stage in Król (King) Roger signals that this will be a cerebral work, and indeed it is.
Although the work was inspired by a 12th Century Sicilian royal, it is clear that Polish/Ukrainian composer Karol Szymanowski was expressing his own psychology in the story of the tortured soul of the monarch.
The music is utterly gorgeous, from the Eastern strains that lace the score to the angelic children’s choir that introduce a spiritual dimension to the plot.
Roger’s sovereignty is undermined by the appearance of the Shepherd, who has a power the king lacks – to enthral the people with his message of sensuality and freedom. Even the Queen, Roxana, is seduced by his preaching and leaves her husband to follow the stranger.
In Act II, the massive head is turned to the back of the stage to reveal the scaffolding which the male dancers ascend in erotic and voluptuous movements, their individuality erased by the black masks that swathe their heads.
In Act III, in another extraordinary piece of choreography, they slither across the stage as a living mass of bodies in a tangle of limbs and torsos.
Michael Honeyman performs the anguished monarch with conviction, Lorina Gore gives us a passionate Roxana, and Saimir Pirgu as the Shepherd is captivating.
The sets are striking and the work leaves an outstanding impression of musical and intellectual originality.
Congratulations OA for bringing this wonderful work to Sydney audiences! (ID)
Until Feb 15, varied performance times. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. $45-$338. Tickets & info: www.opera.org.au