Lorin Maazel's Opera 1984 Draws Big Crowds and Bad Reviews
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
By Robert Barr
LONDON ó In the doublespeak of George Orwell's 1984, schlock is gold, flop is hit, savage criticism is boffo.
Lorin Maazel's critically condemned opera version of 1984reaches its third performance at the Royal Opera House today, with the house nearly sold out for the third straight time.
The crowds are coming despite savage reviews following the May 3 premiere.
"It is both shocking and outrageous that the Royal Opera, a company of supposed international standards and standing, should be putting on a new opera of such wretchedness and lack of musical worth," Andrew Clement wrote in The Guardian after last week's premiere.
Andrew Clark of the Financial Times wrote: "The only reason we find this slick perversion of Orwell on the Covent Garden stage is because super-rich Maazel bought his way there by stumping up the production costs."
One of the kinder reviews called it "operatic fast food."
The strong box office may reflect bargain-basement pricing ó £50 (US$95, 73 euros) for a top ticket, compared to £175 (US$330, 255 euros) for Otello, Die Walk¸re or Un ballo in maschera.
The Royal Opera has said that Big Brother Productions, in which Maazel is a major investor, put up about half the production cost. Elaine Padmore, head of opera at the Covent Garden House, has said that cut the company's cost to about the same as mounting a revival.
After the current run of six performances, Covent Garden has no plans to revive the production, Royal Opera spokeswoman Ann Richards said yesterday.
"All together, the eclectic score has no distinct physiognomy, at best an always lurking, occasional brutal noise trampling on the ears with combat boots," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said in its review.
"The deadly slow pace of his long, schlocky horror show leaves you too much time to divine echoes of Berg and Bernstein, Strauss and Puccini, Gershwin and Britten, Messiaen and Weill, Ligeti and Berio," Anthony Holden wrote in The Observer.
"Such personal touches as Maazel comes up with are as banal as obvious: a solo violin for poignancy, growling B-movie brass for mounting menace, percussive effects for tricksy detail," Holden wrote.
Robert Thicknesse of The Times [of London] said the opera "is not as awful as some feared" but that he had felt "the urgent desire it inspires for it to be over."
"It is pretty unforgivable in any modern opera for the first act to be as long as the whole of La BohËme, particularly when what happens is one-paced to the point of profound boredom," Thicknesse wrote.
Rupert Christiansen of The Daily Telegraph was one of the most cheerful critics to emerge from opening night, judging the production to be "a cleverly concocted piece of operatic fast-food, stuffed with musical additives and devoid of substantial nutritional value, but quite engrossing and enjoyable."
"The audience was clearly absorbed throughout and the reception was generally enthusiastic," Christiansen wrote.
The review in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia [of Barcelona] was much more enthusiastic, reporting that audience applauded for 10 minutes at the end.
"A genius with the baton, of privileged intelligence and a wise negotiator, Maazel took a risk ... and he's does it with trump cards up his sleeve, but without cheating or covering up," La Vanguardia said. "The maestro knows a lot of music and he shows it, just as he shows his prowess in orchestral and vocal work."
Germany's S¸ddeutsche Zeitung was harsh on the composer.
"Maazel seems to not entirely trust the impact of the libretto by J. D. McClatchy and Thomas Meehan ... He employs a style of continuous hysteria, when the listener is practically thumped musically with a sledgehammer, with what is developed rather subtly in the libretto," S¸ddeutsche Zeitung said.
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