University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Szymanowski: Krol Roger; Aylward: Oblivion

04/07/2024 1:00 pm
04/07/2024 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Szymanowski's Krol Roger ('King Roger," 1926) was the first opera in Polish language that I ever broadcast back on Sunday, January 8, 1995. Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is usually considered a Polish composer, but he was born and raised in the Ukraine and his mother was Swedish. From a landowning Polish Catholic family, he lived way to the East in the Orthodox countryside and continued to live on the family estate on-and-off until 1919, when national borders changed. Although Krol Roger premiered in Warsaw, it has nothing to do with Polish national history or Slavic legend. Rather, it reflects upon ancient classical Mediterranean civilization.

The story concerns a twelfth century Sicilian king who resists the temptation to revert from Christianity to the ecstatic pagan cult of Dionysus. In 1995 "King Roger" was heard on Polskie Nagrania LPs. That recording was made with the cast, chorus, and orchestra of the Warsaw State Opera House. There's also a Naxos recording of this rarely produced opera, made with the Polish State Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra of Katowice. I broadcast it on Sunday, September 12, 1999. It got a favorable review from Fanfare magazine's Adrian Corleonis, who wrote, "'King Roger' is Szymanowski's most ambitious work, containing swaths of his most remarkable music, while providing an aesthetic index to his period of opulent exoticism." (Fanfare, July/Aug 1999 issue.)

In 1999 EMI Classics issued yet another new and opulent studio recording of Krol Roger. Simon Rattle led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus. The American baritone Thomas Hampson takes the title role.

Krol Roger, as presented on two EMI CDs, is not overly long in duration, leaving time for a similar work of contemporary American opera. John Aylward's Oblivion (2022) is a one-act, one-hour chamber opera. Like Krol Roger, it invokes ancient myth, with references to Joseph Campbell's writings and Dante's Divine Comedy. One of two wanderers imbibes magical waters which restore memory. These waters act like the mythic River Lethe in reverse.

The world premiere New Focus CD release of Oblivion is derived from the audio part of the video production. The composer provides the electronics in the chamber ensemble backing the four singing characters. Not one but two Fanfare reviewers praised this recording in the March/April 2024 issue. Huntley Dent said, "Every aspect of the performance, vocal and instrumental, is expert, including the electronica...," and Raymond Tuttle concurs, adding "The singers are outstanding both as singers and vocal actors..."