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S & H International Opera Review

Szymanowski, King Roger, Thèâtre du Châtelet, Paris, April 25, 2003 (FC)


There were some in Paris who were looking forward to this concert performance as one of the more important in the season. This opera appeared on many opera-lover's radar with the fine EMI recording by Simon Rattle and starring Thomas Hampson in the title role. But could it be that there is less to this work than meets the eye? Szymanowski was borrowing from any late-Romantic source in reach and a distinctive voice that engaged the listener was not heard. Certainly there are other Late Romantic lyric works, like Die Tote Städt, which might make a stronger artistic statement and are still not being staged with regularity. The static nature of the plot, by itself, would disqualify this work from frequent appearances in any repertory.

Maybe these performances were star-crossed from the start. One after the other, the interesting singers scheduled began dropping out. First to go was the exciting young Russian soprano Olga Trifonova replaced by Tatiana Pozarska. The excellent German tenor Thorsten Kerl was next, replaced by Ryszard Minkiewicz who repeats his problematic appearance in the EMI recording. Finally the grand Thomas Hampson became "indisposed" and the Châtelet managed to borrow Wojtek Drabowicz who happened to be busy in Bordeaux.

The good news is that all of the singers - by chance - happened to be Polish and the enunciation of the text was as good as it gets outside of Teatr Wielkl in Warsaw. But, apart from Drabowicz, who has appeared at Glyndebourne and other important houses and has recorded the role of the King, it was not a memorable night for the voice. The tenor Ryszard Minkiewicz, in the important role of The Shepherd, had trouble all night above the stave and unfortunately the composer took him there often. Soprano Tatiana Pozarska, as the tempted Roxana, was wearing an impressive, white, off-the-shoulder gown. Her shoulder was unfortunately the only thing about her that seemed soft and sexy and the relentless bite of her voice became tiring.

The talented young Finn, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, was fortunately in the pit conducting Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Choir of Radio France. They made impressive sounds all night that often, with the complicity of the composer, covered the straining voices on stage. This opera will be repeated Sunday, April 27 at 4 p.m.

Frank Cadenhead

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