Saimir Pirgu discusses the challenges and excitement of taking on the Shepherd in Szymanowski’s operatic masterpiece.

Szymanowski was quite a new world for me as normally I am considered an Italian repertoire singer – I’ve sung a lot of bel canto, Mozart and Verdi. But if the Royal Opera asks you to make a new production with Kasper Holten and Antonio Pappano, why not?

I took a lot of time to prepare, working with a Polish coach. Even for the Poles in the company – who were proud to have Szymanowski at the Royal Opera House – it was the first time they were doing a new production in London. And of course, the principal singer, Mariusz Kwiecień, was Polish, so I had to be very well prepared.

Saimir Pirgu as Shepherd and Mariusz Kwiecień as King Roger in the Royal Opera House performance, photo © Bill Cooper

I’ve sung in many languages and I speak five quite well, but Polish was the most difficult language I’ve ever had to learn. Normally in singing technique you need to pronounce the consonants plus “ah” and “ee” very well, but in Polish it’s like “zh, zh, zh” – it’s like you have a bad connection!...