Major Operas | King Roger by Karol Szymanowski | Modern Era

Composed: 1918–24
Premiered: 1926, Warsaw
Libretto by J. Iwaszkiewicz and the composer

Act I

The archbishop and the abbess urge King Roger of Sicily to banish a shepherd who is proclaiming an unknown god. Queen Roxana and Edrisi, the King’s Arab counsellor, advise Roger to speak with him. The crowd calls for him to be stoned. He rhapsodizes about his god as the Good Shepherd who protects his lost sheep. Roxana is entranced by his smile. Her pleadings and Edrisi’s calls for justice persuade him to release the shepherd. He will, however, stand trial of a kind, since he is to visit Roger that night.

Act II

Edrisi urges him not to be afraid, but Roger trembles at the fire in the shepherd’s eyes. They hear Roxana pleading for mercy for the shepherd, who enters richly dressed. His answers, full of sensuous imagery, infuriate Roger. People gather round the shepherd. Roger declares that his powers must come from hell. The crowd begins to whirl and dance around. Roxana joins them. Roger orders the guards to seize him, but the chains shatter. The shepherd calls on the people to follow him and challenges Roger to judge him in his homeland. Roger resolves to follow as a pilgrim.


Roger and Edrisi are beside an altar decked with a recent sacrifice. Roger calls and Roxana answers. It is the king’s turn to stand trial. A vision of Roxana appears to tempt him to remain. They throw garlands into the altar’s flame. The shepherd, now revealed as the god Dionysus, summons Roger to ‘an endless journey, to the joyful dance’. Roger stands motionless, with his arms lifted high. The shepherd and his followers disappear with the dawn. Roger has not succumbed to the mysteries of the cult. He offers his heart to the sun.

Personalities | Karol Szymanowski | Modern Era | Opera


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