King Roger - Act I

The interior of a church built by the almighty hands of the Byzantine emperors, the former rulers of the island [of Sicily]. In the middle, at the back, a huge semicircular vault of an apse over a large altar separated from the main nave by a row of small columns of multi-colored marble, topped with capitals of various and unusual shapes. In the middle, double doors opened wide and leading to the altar which glows with candles. These doors are a few steps higher than the level of the stage. The many arches and vaults of the church are supported by huge stone pillars, brought over from ruined antique temples. The vault of the apse is filled by a gigantic mosaic icon of Christ with a thin, ascetic face, with unfathomed black eyes, with his right arm menacingly raised. On the sides, pensive, praying angels. General background: dark gold, glittering drowsily in the light of thousands of candles burning in candelabra suspended from the vault. The side arches and vaults also all filled with a multi-colored mosaic showing in a sequence of scenes the lives of the holy apostles Peter and Paul.
       The rigid rhythm of the temple, however, is broken by the later rulers of the island. Up above, one part of the vault is carved in wood by the Arabs in the form of stalactites covered in rich colors and interspersed with the crafty coils of verses from the Koran. Such a vault can still be seen today in the Capella Palatina in the palace of the Sicilian kings in Palermo. Four stone lions located on the walls at half their height. The pulpit and the floor adorned with a rich marble mosaic.
      The singing of the hymn is heard with the curtain still down. The curtain rises slowly. The stage is half dark, lit only by the numerous candles and the last rays of the setting sun. Despite the crowd that fills the temple, the huge interior seems to be completely still. Dark figures of monks and nuns kneel with their heads bowed. Towering among the nuns is the figure of the Deaconess. The Archiereios in a golden robe is standing in front of the altar. Behind a row of small columns there is a crowd of deacons, presbyters and acolytes. The only movement is the slow swaying of the censers. The motion starts only with the entrance of the king and his court.


Chorus
Hagios! Hagios!
Hagios Kyrios Theos Sabaoth!

Boys' Chorus
On a golden throne above the clouds
holding powers in your hand.
Cherubim and seraphim, kingdoms and powers
bow down low before your might.

Chorus
Hagios Kyrios Theos Sabaoth!

Archiereios
Blazing in the burning bush on Mount Sinai;
in thunder in dreadful wind you come, O Lord.

Boys' Chorus
Ruling with your flaming sword,
sending forth your Archangels.

Chorus
Hagios Kyrios Theos Sabaoth!
(The King and his court enter.)
Give them your blessing O Lord eternal
bless our King Roger,
his noble wife!
Bless them O Lord.

Tenor
Bless our King Roger,
and his noble wife!

Boys' Chorus
Bless them, bless them
O Lord.

Chorus
Bless them O Lord.

Archiereios
O King! We ask for your justice;
show us your mercy!

Deaconess
Defend our holy faith!

Chorus
You who are just! You who are just!

Archiereios
An unknown shepherd stirs up the masses,
our precious lambs.

Deaconess
Carelessly leads them astray!

Chorus
You who are just! You who are just!

Archiereios
He teaches people against the holy faith!

Deaconess
He tempts women into sin!

Chorus
You who are just,
weigh in your wisdom
unfathomed guilt!

King Roger
(in an undertone to Edrisi)

You heard that?

Edrisi
A shepherd - they say he roams among villages
teaching strangely and singing strange songs
to praise an unknown god.

Archiereios
Today he came here,
he talked to the people by the chapel.
Put him in prison!

Deaconess
He leads them away from the church, spreading sin!

Chorus
O King, you who are just!
Weigh in your wisdom!

Roxana
Oh no, my king, no!
They call you just!
Don't put him in prison!
Let him stand before you,
let him show his guilt.
Let him be brought before your presence!

Edrisi
The bird of wisdom is speaking through the Queen's lips,
let him be brought before you, O King!

King Roger
(lost in thought for a moment, then decisively)
Let him be brought here!
(The guards go out.)

Chorus
Punish him, Lord!
Let him not blaspheme
let him not insult Christ our Lord!
O King, you who are just!

King Roger
(With an impatient gesture silences the crowd. Turns to Edrisi.)
And have you seen him?

Edrisi
He's youngish; his hair like copper, all in curls,
dressed in a goatskin like every shepherd;
his eyes are like stars, and his smile is full of mystery.

Roxana
(lost in thought)
His smile is full of mystery,
like forest lakes that send the sun
a smile from their clear depth.

King Roger
(to Edrisi)
What is he like that god unknown
whose glory the shepherd preaches?

Edrisi
Soon he will tell you himself.
(Commotion by the door leading to the church.)

Chorus, Boys' Chorus
Look, they're bringing him in!
Let him be stoned, burned at the stake!
Let him be stoned!
(The Shepherd enters; he stops for a moment on the threshold. He looks around boldly, then he fixes his gaze on Roger and with a slow, relaxed step he comes up almost to the edge of the throne.)

Chorus
Behold the blasphemer!

King Roger
Who are you?

Shepherd
A shepherd.

Chorus
Behold the blasphemer!

King Roger
Why do your stir them up?

Shepherd
I tell them about my god.

King Roger
What is he like, your god?

Shepherd
My god is beautiful like I.

Archiereios
Silence! Madman! Silence!

Deaconess
Silence! Madman! Silence!

Chorus
Madman! Blasphemer! Silence!

Roxana
O King! let him speak, O King!

King Roger
Enough! Let's hear the Shepherd!

Shepherd
(pensively, with an unspeakable smile on his lips)
My God is beautiful like I,
my God is a good Shepherd;
on roads, on stones,
on mountain paths he wanders,
searching the herds that strayed.
Adorned with an ivy wreath,
he carries a bunch of grapes;
he watches over his sheep,
in the emerald fields.
(The whole crowd filling the nave moves slightly toward the front of the stage, surrounding with an ever tightening circle the king and the Shepherd who stands in front of him and who appears to wake up from a reverie and continues with agitation.)
My God, at the water's mirror,
in the darkness of glass waves
looks at himself to see his own smile!
His clothes are of rosy auroras,
his feet are golden and strong,
he's wingless yet has wings.
He wanders, searching the herds that strayed.
(With concentration, he turns toward the surrounding crowd.)
You, all you who suffer,
who seek the hand of joy at night,
he will now find you.
You who desire the fruit of sweet arms,
he will embrace you.
Great grace sleeps in his smile!

Roxana
(lost in thoughts)
Sleeps in his smile.
Why is it that in your eyes, O Shepherd,
there lurks a mysterious thrill,
like stars reflected on water's waves?
And on your lips, O Shepherd,
as if on the rim of a vase of sweet scarlet roses
balances like a brilliant butterfly
the quiet smile of your God!

King Roger
Roxana! Silence!

Roxana
O Shepherd, tell me now,
how big is the depth of the heart
that carries to offer your God
the glow of the hidden flames?

King Roger
Silence! Roxana!
The false charm chains thoughts with illusions!
Be silent!

Shepherd
O King, do believe me,
I'll give new freedom to those in chains!

Chorus
O King, O Lord, punish him!
O Lord, punish him!
O King, O Lord, punish him!
O Lord, punish him!
To death! Take him to the stake!
Take him to the stake!

Boys' Chorus
O Lord, punish him!
O Lord, punish him!
To death!
The stake!

Deaconess
O Queen! You do believe his words!
You look at him as on the savior!

Archiereios
O Lord look at us, at our pain!
At the Christ who glances golden from the altar!

Chorus
O King, O Lord, punish him!
To death! Take him to the stake!
O King, O Lord, punish him!
To death! Take him to the stake!
O King, O Lord, punish him!

Boys' Chorus
O King, punish him!
O King, punish him!
O Lord, oh, punish him!

Shepherd
(as if not hearing the increasing noise)
My God is the shade of green woods,
the whisper of distant sees,
the thunder of distant storms
on oceans under the sun,
the glow of holy eyes.

Roxana
Your God! Your God!

King Roger
Roxana! Silence!
(to the Shepherd)
Malicious glow is in your eyes!
Deceive the women; you won't deceive me!

Edrisi
(pleading)
O King! have mercy on the madman!

King Roger
(gazing at Roxana with determination)
Let him die!

Deaconess, Archiereios, Chorus
Yes! Yes! Let him die,
don't let him blaspheme against Christ!
Let him die, let him die,
no blaspheme against Christ!
Oh Lord, O King, let God be his judge!

Roxana
He tells the truth!
He loves!

Edrisi
Be just, O King!
Call him to trial!

Shepherd
(in rapture, indifferent to anything happening around him)
My God is merciful,
he is a good shepherd, my God!

Deaconess, Archiereios, Chorus
To death take him! To death!
Let God be his judge
almighty, just, merciful!
To death! To death! To death!

King Roger
(with sudden determination stops the crowd with a commanding gesture)
Enough! Enough!
(He sinks down onto the throne. He hides his face in his hands. One can feel in him a raging inner struggle)
(tonelessly)

Let the Shepherd go,
let him go far away to his mountains!

Chorus
Horror! Horror!

King Roger
(to the crowd, forcefully)
Let him go free to his faraway mountains!

Chorus
Sinner! Sinner!
Horror! Horror!

Boys' Chorus
Horror!
(On Shepherd's face appears a wonderful smile. For a moment he looks the king straight in the eyes, as if in secret understanding, then slowly, as if with reluctance, he starts walking toward the exit.)

King Roger
(with sudden decision)
Halt!
(The Shepherd halts at the door and turns toward the king.)
Tonight you shall appear for trial!

Roxana
For trial?

King Roger
When the stars come out in the dark-blue sky
come to the gates of my palace!
The guards will call the password "Shepherd"
and you will answer them "Roger"!

Shepherd
I'll answer them "Roger"?
O King, remember that you
yourself called me to trial!
Remember, O King!
I'll come to you,
I'll bow at your feet!
Remember that you called me yourself!

Chorus
Horror! Horror!
Blasphemy!

Boys' Chorus
Horror! Horror!
Horror! God have mercy!
(The Shepherd walks toward the exit singing the song about his God.)

Shepherd
In the emerald meadows of my mountains back home
wanders the good Shepherd, searching his herds that strayed.
(The voice of the Shepherd fades away in the distance.)

Chorus
Horror! Horror!
Lord have mercy!

Boys' Chorus
Amen!


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