Szymanowski's opera has elements of the classical Greek legend of ‘cult' god Dionysus, reflected through Nietzschean philosophy. Set in 12th century Sicily, it explores the cultural crossroads of the time - Byzantine, Arabic, Greek and European. A mysterious Shepherd is accused of trying to topple the Catholic Church and its authority yet King Roger and his wife Roxana grant him an audience and offer their friendship. Swept up in his heady teachings the entire court joins him as acolytes. Only King Roger holds back from complete devotion to the charismatic herdsman. In the last act the Shepherd reveals himself as Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility and hedonism. King Roger alone resists temptation and conquers his own hedonistic impulses, reason triumphing over emotion. As Roger sings a hymn of praise to Apollo and the sun, the rationality of classicism becomes balanced at last with the ecstatic abandon of Dionysus's followers. A deeply philosophical work, the music has a sweeping romanticism and lyricism that encompass a first act immersed in religious atmosphere, through a second act built around oriental and exotic dance and culminating in the idealism and passion of the third act.
Sung in Polish with English surtitles.