Sydney Festival Review: Opera Australia’s King Roger takes you (quite literally) inside the conflicted mind of the King

King Roger, or Krol Roger, is a rarely performed Polish opera that takes you inside the conflicted mind of the King as he battles with the seduction of a hedonistic Shepard/God. And by “takes you inside” it means quite literally, for the main stage is a giant head- the hollowed back forming stairs and platforms within the mind where most of the action takes place.

The reveal of the head is quite magnificent- it is the first thing we see as the music begins. The faint lights casting patterns across the sculptured face. At times it almost looks as though the sculpture’s eyes are following the actors on stage, a trick of the light. The complexity of the stairs within the mind are no doubt representative of the complexity of the thoughts twisting through Roger’s mind. It’s quite a staging.

Continuing in such a way with representation, the thrusting, erotic, unceasing, dancers that spread their way throughout the mind are like the chaos of his emotions, pulsing like the blood in his confused veins. It’s quite a different kind of “dramatic” for an opera, and perhaps where it’s more modern tendencies come into play.

Overall the story is over fairly quickly- King (Michael Honeyman) is confronted by man calling himself a Shepard (Saimir Pirgu), Queen (Lorina Gore) helps convince a conflicted King to hear out Shepard, King lets Shepard into his mind, chaos. And then somewhat of a resolution. The feelings are resolutely sexual- with a great deal of sexual frustration and homosexual confusion.

Michael Honeyman is fabulous in the role of King Roger, managing to represent his conflictions and the weakening state of his mind. So too is Lorina Gore in her role as Queen Roxana- and my favourite part of the opera came in a moment of complete silence, broken by Gore’s mesmerizing voice echoing throughout the theatre.

The Polish is of course a unique language for an opera, but in tone sounds quite similar to the more familiar German so it’s not too startling. However overall I couldn’t help comparing everything to Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci which I had seen two nights prior- comparing and finding this a little lacking. I don’t know whether it’s the brevity that means that we can’t form any stronger attachment to the characters, or whether it was the lack of any particularly memorable arias… it was certainly dramatic, but I feel it lacked the drama of the great operas.

The crowd however seemed deeply impressed, and I do admit it would probably be a good opera for those not too familiar with the art as a whole. King Roger does seem an excellent piece in its association with Sydney Festival, particularly if the 7 bows at curtain call was any indication.

King Roger will be turning heads at the Sydney Opera House until the 15th February. For more information and to book visit opera.org.au

The reviewer attended the performance on the 20th January.

Photo credit (c) Keith Saunders