Saturday, 18 April 2015

Opera: Queen

[Mariusz] Kwiecien is at Covent Garden to sing Krol Roger, a little-known opera composed by fellow Pole Karol Szymanowski in the 1920s. It tells the story of a Sicilian king and his queen and court who fall under the spell of a shapely young shepherd’s quasi-religious promises of sensuality and sexual abandon. The opera is one man’s struggle between duty and homoerotic hedonism but everyman’s struggle between intellect and impulse.

While Mozart’s Don Giovanni is Kwiecien’s calling card — he has sung it worldwide including at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and most recently at Covent Garden — Krol Roger is something of a personal manifesto. Kwiecien has championed the opera from Paris to Santa Fe, and not only for its shimmering music, which ranges from a byzantine choral opening to standout arias. The piece speaks directly to his Polish roots and a desire to see tolerance rattle Poland’s enduring homophobic social attitudes.

“Poland is such a conservative country dominated by the [Catholic] church,” says Kwiecien, who lives between New York and Krakow. “When I come back to my country I love to see the changes; Polish people are becoming more European. But in one aspect Poland is never changing: it is so traditional.”

Szymanowski privately wrestled with his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was widely disapproved of. Among his gay lovers was Boris Kochno, 22 years his junior, who later became the lover of Sergei Diaghilev and Cole Porter. Szymanowski wrote a gay novel, Efebos, some of which he gave to Kochno, and this expression of tolerance sowed the seeds of Krol Roger, completed a few years later.

“Our nation created this kind of musician, who created such a fantastic piece that celebrates the differences: being different as a man, different as a human being,” says Kwiecien, who won’t be drawn on his own private life. “But in Krol Roger, Polish people always see the Shepherd coming as Jesus Christ . . . and they still think that homosexuality is inappropriate. We have to change the mind of our nation.”

Krol Roger could be considered the world’s first gay opera; it was embraced by American gay culture in the 1990s and last year, before Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics, gay rights campaigners proposed it as the ideal operatic rallying cry against Putin’s anti-gay legislation, calling on Russian super-maestro Valery Gergiev to conduct. “You cannot say that Krol Roger is an opera about straight people because it’s not,” says Kwiecien.

Kasper Holten’s production at Covent Garden presents the homoeroticism between King and Shepherd as a seduction tool for the impostor’s grander political machinations. “Thank God,” adds Kwiecien, who is glad of a new angle...

The Times.

PS And coming up at the Royal Opera House, Pleasure, set in the toilets of a gay club, by Mark Simpson (not that one).

No comments:

Post a Comment