The subject of this singular opera merits special attention, for those who are not yet in the know, to throw a light on the preferences of the composer as regards the formulation of its scenic definitions. It illustrates a passage of Mediterranean history, in 12th century Sicily, made dream-like and with hallucinatory mythical and pagan images. The background, from our italian point of view, is full of poignant references: it is felt in the subjective expression of the characters, a flash of the first examples of vernacular poetry. Behind all this there is a reminder of ultimate pagan poeticalness ; the fusion of myths; shining alexandrian golden hues, daringly linked to the gregorian chants which spring up in the ecclesiastical chants of Act one.
Mysticism and paganism are handled by the composer with febrile accents. Disquieting colours, thick with shadow, and a feeling of excitement which he stretches and mixes up between music and scenic movement to intoxicate the nordic essence of the composer with mediterranean gusts of wind.
Many italian images passed through the imagination of Szymanowski: A Sicily evoked by refined aspirations, almost pathological; a total desire of the sun and sea, which assaults the music to the point of dithyramb; and the composite reincarnation of a strange Dionysis stretches out its enchanting image, and also dominates amidst the unexplainable references to a vague christianity.
The disquiet of King Roger, gradually allowing himself to drift in the mythical breeze issuing from the holy man Dyonisis flawed by evangelism; the dismay, again, of the protagonist, amidst Rossanna’s chants (the queen is taken with the holy man’s narrative); amidst the frenzied royal dances of act two, and its conclusive reunion, its pagan resolution (also here, connected to imprecise mystic elements) in that beautiful monologue which the opera is brought to a close. King Roger, both in himself and in the poetic relationship with the other characters, with the surroundings, and with the Chorus, seems to me a valuable autobiographical point.
And Szymanowsky himself, feverish, like a spoilt child, made up of diverse aspirations. The polish composer gives great symbolic value to this character which is at the centre of this work. The poetic styles and aims, before even studying the musical score, find their sum total in the protagonist; in that which comes to represent the complete humanity of the composer.
(from “La rassegna musicale” X , 1937 – n. 12, pp. 409 – 415)