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1984, Maazel: WINSTON SMITH

1984: An opera in two acts

opera_1984_room101_8
1984cropped

 

“…the show is carried by the magnificent Simon Keenlyside, who captures all of Winston’s vulnerability and introspection in a deeply sympathetic and beautifully sung performance.” The Telegraph

“Simon Keenlyside gave the performance of his life as Winston Smith.” Evening Standard

Composer: Lorin Maazel
Librettists: JD McClatchy and Thomas Mehan
Venue and Dates: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
3, 6, 11, 14, 16, 19 May 2005
World Premiere
Conductor: Lorin Maazel
Director: Robert Lepage
Production Team Set: Carl Fillion
Costumes: Yasmina Giguère
Lighting: Michel Beaulieu
Choreography : Sylvain Émard
Performers:
Winston Smith : Simon Keenlyside
Julia : Nancy Gustafson
O’Brien : Richard Margison
Gym Instructress/Drunken Woman : Diana Damrau
Syme : Lawrence Brownlee
Parsons : Jeremy White
Charrington : Graeme Danby
Prole Woman : Mary Lloyd-Davies
Cafe Singer : Johnnie Fiori
Pub Quartet : The Demon Barbers
Recorded voice of the telescreen : Jeremy Irons
The Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director, Renato Balsadonna) and
the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master, Peter Manning).
Notes: Produced by Big Brother Productions, LLC, in collaboration with The Royal Opera

Useful link: http://www.1984theopera.com/This production was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on 25th May 2005

Soundbites

Lorin Maazel’s production of 1984 has polarised opinion of critics and fans alike; you either love it or hate it. In light of this we decided to not only list reviews from the press, but also to express our own views as Jane loved it and Janet didn’t.

Click here to see what Jane thought of 1984

Click here to see what Janet thought of 1984

With appalling clarity.

Richard Boisvert for Le Soleil, 4th May 2005. The original is in French, translated here by Jane Garratt.

http://lesoleil.cyberpresse.ca/journal/2005/05/04/arts_et_vie/03901_d_une_epouvantable_clarte.php

The famous novel finds new resonance at the opera.

Was George Orwell a visionary? It makes one shiver to think that 1984, his most famous novel, finds more and more resonance in the world that surrounds us. Last night, the opera composed by Lorin Maazel and produced by Robert Lepage was added to the surrounding chorus. A new voice was raised and it announced nothing good or reassuring for humanity.

The spectacle, which was welcomed for six performances by the very prestigious Royal Opera House in London, relies on a solid adaptation. The most demanding critics could not deny this first quality. It is faithful to the essence of 1984, it proposes a perfectly coherent rereading which constantly sticks to the ideas in the novel, to its absurd logic and fundamental dehumanisation.

For, as far as one can judge from a single hearing, the music also possesses real interest. The event is seeking to bring out the voices of the performers. Dominated by the Baritone Simon Keenlyside (Winston), Nancy Gustafson (Julia) and Richard Margison (O’Brien), the cast reveals high quality. Above all Keenlyside, an English baritone, has a sophisticated sound, which we will certainly hear talked about more and more.

Maazel manages, moreover, to vary his textures, from chamber music to grand themes for the whole orchestra, and to adjust the colour of every scene; he often throws himself into complex scenes where several different moods are superimposed. This very precise work was created with care by the composer who, it is necessary to make clear, is also active as the conductor. Having said that, it is in the transitional passages that the composer shows evidence of the greatest creativity.

It ought to have been very easy for the fruitful mind of Robert Lepage to add his own voice to that of George Orwell. Yet the producer is very restrained. This, the opera has without doubt found it more easy to find a cohesive path.

The message can not be any clearer. A world where thinking for oneself has become a crime punishable by death, and where living is not allowed unless one denies ones own existence. Winston betrays Julia. Broken by torture, his memory torn to shreds, he finds himself facing nothingness. His heart still beats, but it no longer races.

The libretto of J.D. McClatchy and Thomas Meehan, two poets shaped by the school of “musicals”, shows this very effectively. Obviously, the text had to be adapted, and above all shortened, to change from the book to the stage. However, the adaptation of the work, and its compression into a piece which lasts about two hours and a quarter, introduces a clarity which a single reading of the novel, even if it is repeated, cannot give.

The triumphant announcements of Big Brother’s regime, which close every scene, punctuate the drama and establish a rhythm which becomes very familiar to the viewer. These, very “Lepagian”, scene changes underline the flexibility of the imposing rotating set thought up by Carl Fillion. This never loses a metallic coldness and post-soviet appearance.

The new opera does not pretend in any way to update “1984”. This does not stop the audience from making these connections and drawing their own conclusions. In this, the writers have succeeded, without interpreting more than was necessary, in showing how the work can talk to us today.

The London press censor Lepage but rebuff Maazel.

Richard Boisvert for Le Soleil, 5th May 2005.

The original is in French, but is translated here by Jane Garratt.

http://lesoleil.cyberpresse.ca/journal/2005/05/05/arts_et_vie/03904_la_presse_londonienne_encense_lepage_mais_rabroue_maazel.php

The criticisms I read in the London press were, to say the least, divided yesterday morning, the day after the premiere of 1984. In spite of several extremely positive commentaries, the opera composed by Lorin Maazel is still, in the two or three of the daily papers which produced an article, condemmed as a vanity project and a waste of time, money and talent.

The first night on Tuesday evening at the Royal Opera House in London will not, therefore, succeed in calming the controversy which has already surrounded the production for some time.

The nature of the controversy is easy to grasp when one observes from the outside. Apparently, some English people will not tolerate Covent Garden, the foremost opera house in the United Kingdom, being in the service of a wealthy American. The harshest criticism which is heaped on 1984 has nothing to do with its artistic merit. From before the first night they rose up against what they called this “vanity project” of Lorin Maazel. Before the first curtain rose his music, even if it showed genius, would having little chance of pleasing them.

The Evening Standard gave a rather contradictory judgement. Their very positive review concerns Robert Leplage, who manages according to the reviewer, “to give the best production seen at Covent Garden in the course of the last few years”. She continues by underlining that the libretto of de J.D. McClatchy and Thomas Meehan is a skilful adaptation of George Orwell’s novel and remains faithful to its spirit.

Also, according to the Standard, Simon Keenlyside has given, “the” performance of his career in the role of “Winston”,and the rest of the cast showed that they were equal to him from the point of view of the quality of the singing and in the force of their conviction. And yet finally, even she follows this, without much logic, by concluding that 1984 is “a superb waste of time, money and talent”. The paper finishes by demanding where the claque were at the final curtain. Apparently the fact that the great majority of the audience showed their satisfaction was not to the taste of the journalist.

Far from being the most murderous, the Guardian review repeated the reproaches expressed by the same paper 2 days before the premiere. One could read “It’s a disgrace, an outrage and a shame. This has no musical worth”.

According to the Guardian’s representative, the roles of O’Brien and Julia “have no scope, and Nancy Gustavoson (sic) lacks fervour. Their efforts seem futile in every way”.

The Daily Telegraph, with the most shades of meaning of the three, throws itself into a real culinary metaphor. 1984 could also be described as an intelligent piece concocted from “operatic fast-food”, stuffed with musical additives, without great nutritional value, but rather captivating and agreeable.

The critic has otherwise few reproaches to make, on the contrary “The production of Robert Lepage is a marvel of fluidity and precision, and even if it is far from being the most radical staging, it contains several striking images, not the least of which is Room 101. “Among the principle singers, Richard Margison made me shiver and Nancy Gustafson was radiant. As for Simon Keenlyside, he’s ‘superb’, it’s him that carries the show. It’s his charisma which makes it so lively and so captivating.”

Les Doublepluspasheureux. HE Elsom writing for ConcertoNet.com

http://www.concertonet.com/scripts/review.php?ID_review=2933

“….. the power of the second act depends almost exclusively on the performance of Simon Keenlyside as Winston. Keenlyside is a supremely physical singer, and his depiction of Winston’s pain and humiliation as he was held up to the auditorium in three sides of a padded cube was unbearable to watch and impossible to look away from. It could be argued that the music did no harm to the drama here, but it will be interesting to see if another baritone can hold the audience’s attention in the same way. Keenlyside’s main shortcoming in the role is that he is touchingly vulnerable but does not have the pathos suggested by Winston’s “varicose veins and five false teeth”, a line that could usefully have been changed in the libretto. He is definitely not the smoldering weed, reminiscent of George Orwell, of the novel.”

A review by Dominic McHugh on MusicOMH.com

http://www.musicomh.com/opera/1984.htm

“A curiosity worth witnessing, but far from a triumph.”

“However, the Royal Opera had at Maazel’s disposal a truly magnificent cast, and in Simon Keenlyside’s Winston, a typically saving light. Does he ever give a bad performance? He is today’s Domingo figure, a “complete” performer: singer and actor in equal measure. Throughout, his burnished baritone filled Maazel’s vacuous score with as much tension and excitement as it could possibly hold. Where the opera succeeded in generating excitement or emotion, the reason was usually Keenlyside’s presence. He is worth the extremely cheap price of admission (top price of £50, plenty of seats left) alone, and all fans should definitely experience his performance of Winston’s torture.”

1984 Draws Big Crowds Despite Poor Reviews.

Ben Mattison for Playbill Arts, 11 May 2005

http://www.playbillarts.com/news/article/2031.html

“The strong ticket sales have come despite reviews that ranged from mixed to brutal.”

Vanity, thy name is Maazel.

Anthony Holden, The Observer, Sunday May 8, 2005.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/reviews/observer/story/0,,1478817,00.html

This tone of this review is summed up by ”Seldom has the Royal Opera House been home to such a witless production as 1984.”

Holden does, however have this to say about Simon “…the stunning central performance of British baritone Simon Keenlyside as Winston Smith, acting with impressive conviction and singing with flawless command.”

Maazel Offers a Salute To Orwell’s Vision.

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, Thursday May 5, 2005.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9805E6DF1730F936A35756C0A9639C8B63

Not favourable but not rude. Offering one of the silliest descriptions of Simon.

”The admirable cast was headed by the superb British baritone Simon Keenlyside as Winston. An elegant and hardy singer, Mr. Keenlyside again proved himself a risk-taking actor — the Ralph Fiennes of baritones.”

Big Brother isn’t watching – he’s seen enough.

Anna Picard, The Independent, 8th May 2005

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/reviews/story.jsp?story=637070

“Only Winston (Simon Keenlyside) and Parsons (Jeremy White) approximate Orwell’s originals.”

“Banal beyond description, hubristic beyond belief, bone-headed, brain-numbing and bathetic, 1984 is an unqualified disaster.”

Opera is no place for vanity productions.

Philip Hensher, The Independent, 6 May 2005

http://comment.independent.co.uk/columnists_a_l/philip_hensher/story.jsp?story=635952

To access this story on the web you must either buy it for £1 or subscribe to The Independent Portfolio service (£10 monthly, £50 yearly).

Maazel’s money beats the Orwellian machine to launch an opera triumph.

Robert Maycock, The Independent, 4 May 2005.

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/story.jsp?story=635475

A truncated version of this review appeared on 5 May 2005.

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/reviews/story.jsp?story=635834

Three stars out of five.

“The librettists, JD McClatchy and Thomas Meehan, have delivered a concise, pacy 1984” “Simon Keenlyside embodies Winston’s human mix of strength and weakness in a performance of expressive physical energy and vocal stamina.”

“Yet Maazel can turn on the passion. The scenes between Winston and Julia move effectively from spiky mistrust to a genuine, but doomed, frankness.Simon Keenlyside embodies Winston’s all-too-human mix of strength and weakness in a performance of expressive physical energy and vocal stamina. The pick of the cameos is Lawrence Brownlee’s Syme, a virtuoso display from a voice of quite astonishing range.“

Markus Thiel, Münchner Merkur, 05.05. 2005

http://www.merkur-online.de/nachrichten/kultur/kunstakt/art282,392368.html?fCMS=6cb5ec2e633b235f83db27a47e35b9c5

See below for an English translation by Ursula Turecek

Markus Thiel for the Munich Mercury, 5 May 2005.

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Emotion guaranteed

Lorin Maazel’s opera „1984“ premiered in London

“Total happiness” in the “best show ever” is in store just around the corner, about fifty metres away. There the rush for “The Producers”, the musical on the commemoration day lasts for months already. In it Mel Brooks makes the SS dance and a gay Hitler jive – an acquaintance not suitable to the high station of culture at the Royal Opera House ? But at closer examination: In this neighbourhood Lorin Maazel’s first opera, originally conceived for the Prinzregententheater in Munich, does not even look too bad.

So take George Orwell’s novel-classic as basis, add a pair of librettists (J. D. McClathchy, Thomas Meehan) toughened by musicals, a riskless director (Robert Lepage) and a star-conductor whose compositorial mood is geared to the highly culinary: What could go wrong with this London world premiere ? The result looks accordingly, could be sold to New York, the Ronacher in Vienna or to Bochum. Big Brother as the perfect creepical, emotion and comforting trepidation guaranteed.

Well, nobody expected Maazel who conducted the first night himself, to take the opera into the third milennium. And the way he throws himself at the heart of good old literary opera, how he declares himself for the through-composed style riddled with solo-numbers, for the large romantic orchestra, all this is likable in a way. Here somebody enters to deliver an efficient piece: is this an evil ?

Maazel, the bespoke tailor for his soloists

Mr. Maazel is from his experience as conductor and with fiddling about scores without doubt a good orchestrator. The treatment of the orchestra, the knowledge of blending and effects, of how to imbed the voices, and a graphic, tonal dramaturgy attest to ability. Over long distances “1984” is longing audibly for past times, as if Andrew Lloyd Webber under the guise of Benjamin Britten had dabbled in great opera. Some of the choruses move unrestrainedly in major tonalities, some parts are low-key progressive, there are ragtime and blues, love as heavily sighing sob-stuff, grotesque farces and in the torture scenes a glacially biting tonality riddled with noises.

Mainly the hero Winston Smith is granted cantilenas that are supported Puccini-like with parallels in the orchestra. As Mr. Maazel does prove a bespoke tailor for his soloists. Thus Diana Damrau is allowed as Gym Instructress or drunken dosser to do the nuts coloratura diseuse, Nancy Gustafson to demonstrate the substantial middle register of her soprano and Richard Margison to sing his O’Brien with the gesture of a Heldentenor.

Naturally it’s Winston and therefore Simon Keenlyside, soon Munich’s Wolfram again, who bears the brunt. Keenlyside, a suitably passive character, comes up to the part with great conciseness and with song-like nuances permits to be driven effectively to the limits of his beautiful Mozart-baritone in Act II and determines the evening decisively.

Thus he is ideal for director Robert Lepage. He and his designing team confine themselves to serving naturalism that largely spells the libretto. A low round horizon is allowed to rotate, quickly alterable stage elements establish cubicles or a lane. Economically used projections show Big Brother’s blurred face or in hectic doubling suffering Winston. But he may groan heart-rendingly at the rack: The authentic Orwell-horror does not really arise.

Because Maazel’s opera, this piece with the seemingly perfect masterplan does wear out in three hours of experienced formality. Even the libretto is a problem: Where communication is constricted and exchange is forbidden with Orwell, where thoughtcrime therefore must arise, the characters here blazon forth their existential orientations in grateful solo-numbers.

Orwell’s „1984“ basically is about the inconsistency of feelings inside and totally controlled outside. But to convert this into music, ready-made musical staginess is not sufficient, for this Maazel lacks the appetite for experimenting, for tracing unheard-of adequate solutions. That the audience sometimes laughed during Big Brother’s announcements is just a danger signal: Where Orwell’s is warning, Maazel’s opera is moving the events into an artistic distance. “1984” in the London version, this is also an unintentional pleading against being “opera’d”. And for best taking in hand the phenomenal novel once again.

Andrew Clements, The Guardian, Wednesday May 4, 2005.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/reviews/story/0,,1476028,00.html

“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.” Clements awarded 1984 one star out of five, but had this to say about Simon “Simon Keenlyside’s acting and singing are typically tireless as he performs as Winston.”

Photo Journal: 1984 Premieres at Covent Garden.

Ben Mattison, for Playbill Arts, 04 May 2005
http://www.playbillarts.com/news/article/1988.html

Brash, Coarse but with the power to grip.

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 4 May 2005.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2005/05/04/bs1984.xml

“…a cleverly concocted piece of operatic fast-food, stuffed with musical additives and devoid of substantial nurtritional value, but quite engrossing and enjoyable.”

“…the show is carried by the magnificent Simon Keenlyside, who captures all of Winston’s vulnerability and introspection in a deeply sympathetic and beautifully sung performance.”

1984: Orwell’s masterpiece comes to the opera stage.

Arifa Akbar, The Independent, 3 May 2005

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/news/story.jsp?story=635180

Covent Garden in row over vanity project.
Charlotte Higgins,
The Guardian, Monday May 2, 2005.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/news/story/0,11711,1474732,00.html

Maazel Is Major Backer of 1984 Premiere.

Ben Mattison for Playbill Arts, 2 May 2005
http://www.playbillarts.com/news/article/1964.html

 

 

 

Big Brother sings!
Tim Ashley,
The Guardian, Friday April 29, 2005,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/fridayreview/story/0,12102,1472118,00.html

An article about the librettists Thomas Meehan and JD McClatchy.

The original Big Brother.

Jessica Duchen, The Independent, 22 April 2005

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/low_res/story.jsp?story=631802&host=5&dir=227

An interview with Lorin Maazel

Marc Bridle for Seen and Heard

http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2005/Jan-Jun05/1984.htm

“…That is not to say, however, that there are not flickers of genius here and there, almost all of them reserved for the final act. How far cinematography is interlacing with the traditional staging of opera productions could be witnessed in Winston’s hallucinatory rantings about Julia: she appears as a girl dancing through meadows on the vast background screen (an image startlingly reminiscent of the recent Gotterdämmerung at ENO of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey) and similarly well done was Winston’s torture with rats, here seen as a series of rat-like shadows crawling over the walls and floor of his padded cell. These were startling images, evocative even. Winston’s brainwashing is shown in close up shards of agonized facial expressions on a big screen bringing us closer to his torture and pain than might otherwise be the case. But they are isolated inventions within a largely pluralistic and conservative staging.”

”Despite quite notable differences between what the surtitles were showing and what the singer’s were phrasing (at one stage Simon Keenlyside reversed the order of the lines he was singing) the Royal Opera has assembled a cast which is world-class. Keenlyside’s Winston dominates the opera, and he sings both beautifully and with a profound sense of knowingness. He is beguiling to watch, as consummate an actor as he is a singer. Yet, straight-jacketed by a lack of direction even Keenlyside has problems holding the attention. His ‘love’ scenes with Julia are deliberately uneroticised, stolen moments that end in a Brief Encounter type conclusion. Nancy Gustafson’s Julia is again beautifully sung, but she has too little to do. Richard Margison’s O’Brien is malevolent, but little else. Diana Damrau, in two roles as the Gym Instructress and the Drunken Woman, gives quite wonderful support, but Lawrence Brownlee’s Syme – brilliantly narrating in Newspeak – was both light of voice and tended to use his Rossinian strengths to too little effect.”

Roger Covell for the Sydney Morning Herald May 6, 2005

Big Brother, without the cabbage and drains

http://www.smh.com.au/news/Arts/Big-Brother-without-the-cabbage-and-drains/2005/05/05/1115092620139.html?oneclick=true

“So how did 1984 stand up to inspection at its first performance at Covent Garden on Tuesday? While necessarily compressing the action, the opera and its presentation were faithful to the spirit of the novel.”

“The work became an absorbing musical-theatrical experience, finely produced and immaculate in the impressive technical details of its staging. It was sung and acted by an excellent cast led by the baritone Simon Keenlyside (Winston Smith), the soprano Nancy Gustafson (Julia) and the Canadian tenor Richard Margison as the formidable inquisitor O’Brien. Maazel’s conducting was in complete control.”

“ The rats, dreaded by Smith, are shadows swarming below the mesh of a tumbling box cage in which the singer, Keenlyside, displays prodigies of agility.”

“The postwar British seediness of the original 1984, its smell of cabbage and old drains, is largely missing from the opera. Keenlyside’s admirable physique does not accord in any way with the novel’s account of Smith’s varicose veins and false and rotting teeth, inappropriately retained as a reference in the libretto.”

A ride to the Ministry of love
Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard (4 May 2005)

Thanks to George Orwell, the story is shattering. The cast is classy. Robert Lepage’s production is the best seen at Covent Garden for a good few years. The text, deftly honed into singable drama by Producers co-writer Thomas Meehan and poet JD McClatchy, is faithful to the novel. So the world premiere of 1984, composed, conducted and largely funded by veteran American conductor Lorin Maazel, was not all as bad as predicted.

But opera stands or falls by its music. Here the trouble began. Instead of an opera, in which music dictates the drama, Maazel has given us a book set to music. The score illustrates, accompanies, underlines – often vividly – but rarely compels. The vehicle in which the narrative is made to ride for nearly three hours, is the musical equivalent of the longest of stretch limos, as gleaming and vulgar as that implies, driven ponderously round Orwell’s shocking icons: Newspeak, Room 101, Big Brother. There’s no doubting Maazel’s competence. You want menace, he gives you menace. You care for a love song, he can do you one. London chimes? Here’s a whole tintinnabulation. Rats? Rat-a-tat-tat, they’re coming, big and fat. The fanfare opening, with its volleys of screeching brass, was full of promise. But for much of the time the music subsided into sameness, with folk songs, nursery rhymes, a bluesy love song stuck on like cloves on a ham. At an hour shorter it might have worked.

Carl Fillion’s gloomy panopticon design worked well in establishing the mood of alienation. Simon Keenlyside gave the performance of his life as Winston Smith. This most poetic of performers sweated and wept with complete conviction and sang superbly. Nancy Gustafson was a cool, glamorous Julia. Richard Margison’s O’Brien had icy malevolence. Soprano Diana Damrau sang her virtuosic gym-instructress aria while doing a full workout. Anyone who can sing coloratura while doing the splits gets my vote. An invisible Jeremy Irons hit the grim spot as the intercom voice.

But it all felt a terrible waste of time, money and talent. Since it was announced last year, 1984 has always been recognised, to the tune of some £415,000, as a vanity project on Maazel’s part. No crime in itself – you don’t reach the age of 75 and expect anyone to fund your latest career move, especially if you can pay for it yourself. Few others have Maazel’s clout or cash, so the danger of this practice becoming a habit is remote. But it will go down in ROH annals as folly. Where were the traditional first-night hecklers? In Room 101? Money can’t buy you love but it can get you, as Newspeak would have it, unbooed.

Rupert Christiansen in his review of opera in 2005 (Telegraph, 24 December 2005)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2005/12/24/btopera24.xml

“I thought my colleagues were hard on Lorin Maazel’s 1984, which provided effective musical theatre in an imaginative staging by Robert Lepage, but I don’t suppose it will ever be heard again.”

Maestro Maazel se paie un opéra
Nicolas Blanmont for La Libre Belgique 18 May 2005

An English translation will appear soon…

L’affaire fait grand bruit dans le monde musical international: Covent Garden vient d’accueillir la création mondiale de «1984», premier opéra de Lorin Maazel. Rien d’étonnant, certes, à ce qu’une prestigieuse maison d’opéra ne se contente pas d’entretenir le grand répertoire et laisse la place à des oeuvres nouvelles: le Royal Opera House de Londres en est coutumier, qui avait par exemple abrité l’an passé «The Tempest» de Thomas Adès. Oui, sauf que Maazel, chef assurément très demandé – sauf à Covent Garden où il ne s’était plus produit depuis 1978 – n’est pas vraiment réputé comme compositeur: un CD réunissant trois concertos fut bien édité par RCA en 1998, avec Rostropovitch, Galway et Maazel lui-même comme solistes, mais c’est une des rares traces qui existent de ce qui ressemble un peu chez lui à une activité du dimanche. Et après avoir entendu «1984» – voir ci-dessous -, il se confirme que «Maestro Maazel» (puisque telle est l’appellation qu’il se donne sur son site Internet) ne passera sans doute pas à la postérité pour ses partitions.

En sortir très vite

Au lendemain de la première, une partie de la presse britannique se déchaîne: «extrême médiocrité et manque de valeur musicale» pour «The Guardian» qui égratigne au passage Antonio Pappano qui avait déclaré son admiration pour le compositeur Maazel, «sorte mielleuse de musique de film» pour «The Times» qui ajoute perfidement que le point commun entre «1984» et la fameuse chambre 101 imaginée par Orwell est qu’on a envie d’en sortir très vite. «The Telegraph» est moins sévère, stigmatisant une partition «criarde et vulgaire» mais reconnaissant son pouvoir d’attraction, une efficacité que reconnaît aussi «The Independent».

Big Brother coproduit

Mais plus encore que la valeur intrinsèque de l’oeuvre, ce sont ses conditions de création qui font jaser. Lorin Maazel, 75 ans, portait depuis longtemps son projet d’opéra: l’oeuvre avait été initiée par Auguste Everding, alors directeur de l’Opéra de Munich, mais Everding était mort peu après et Maazel n’avait trouvé personne pour créer son «1984». Il a donc finalement dû y aller de sa poche, créant une société (Big Brother Productions) qui «coproduit» le spectacle, prenant en charge près de la moitié du budget (620000 €, pour 730000 € à Covent Garden). La direction de Covent Garden confirme, tout en précisant que cet investissement lui a permis d’ajouter «1984» à une saison déjà bien remplie par ailleurs et de garder les places à un prix relativement démocratique (73 € maximum, au lieu de 256 pour «La Walkyrie» ou «Un bal masqué»). Et la première, en tout cas, s’est donnée devant une salle comble.

1984SKandNG2

Photo: Bill Cooper

Eduardo Benarroch – Mayo 2005 – For Operayre

http://www.operayre.com.ar/

An English translation will appear soon…

“Simon Keenlyside se lleva la medalla al heroísmo por llevar la acción desde el principio al fín. No hay momento que no se entregue con cuerpo y alma a la acción y en toda ocasión vive su rol. Pero no es un rol gratificante, mucho mucho trabajo por poca recompensa artística. Es cierto que tiene mucho para lucirse histriónicamente pero el es un cantante que gusta del desafío musical y no creo que lo haya encontrado en este rol.
Keenlyside canta con su acostumbrado buen gusto un rol que resulta mas bajo que lo que hemos escuchado cantar a este sensacional barítono ultimamente. Pero eso no es ningún problema para él y se luce donde puede sea visualmente o vocalmente. En especial queda para el recuerdo la escena de la habitación 101, una habitación acolchonada puesta en un vertice giratorio que hace que parezca que no hay techo ni piso y que através de las paredes surjan las ratas que tanto teme Winston y que al final destruyen su voluntad de resistir. No hay dudas de que Kennlyside ha hecho una labor magnífica y una creación muy típica suya. Bravo!!”

Paul Driver for The Sunday Times

“Lorin Maazel’s rendition of 1984 is more musical than opera, says Paul Driver. Lorin Maazel, 75, is one of the best-known conductors of the day, but remarkably little known as a composer. He gave a Barbican programme of his works three years ago, but, on the whole, his oeuvre is about as well established in the concert hall as Furtwangler’s or Klemperer’s. It was to astonishment, therefore, that an opera by him was announced for premiere at Covent Garden, and 1984, his two-act version of Orwell’s novel, was duly unveiled under his direction last week.

True, the ROH had nothing to do with the work’s inception. This was a stimulus from August Everding of the Prinzregententheater, Munich. He died before a contract was signed, and the project foundered, until Covent Garden, colla-borating with a special production company financed to the tune of £420,000 by Maazel himself, agreed to take it on. In this, and other ways, 1984 resembles a musical, and it is apt that one of the librettists, Thomas Meehan, should have co-written the book of The Producers, playing yards away at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The other, JD McClatchy, is a poet as well as the librettist of four previous operas. The yin-yang combination has resulted in a text both verbally and theatrically elegant, but it does nothing to lift the opera into the realm of the necessary.

What we have here is less an opera than a desire to make a splash. “I am not a reformer,” Maazel has said. “I think opera came into existence for a reason, and these reasons are certainly as valid today as they were then.”

If you take that alarmingly unhistorical line, you are hardly likely to end up with the sort of innovative fusion of words and music that opera has been at its best. I was surprised at the sheer efficacy of the score; besides the experienced writers, Maazel has secured the brilliant Canadian director Robert Lepage, and the production exudes skill. But when operatic history is compelled to repeat itself — Maazel finds exemplars for his drama of love against repression in Fidelio, Don Carlos and Tosca — it turns not so much (as Marx would have said) into farce as into West End musical.

The gasometer-like set, by Carl Fillion, does not disappoint in this regard. It is vast and glamorous and lots of illusionistic fun. As it rotates, cutaway street scenes and rooms (on two levels) are disclosed. The exterior is used vertically for cubicles at the Ministry of Truth, where Winston Smith and his colleagues work at falsifying records. Telescreens showing Big Brother’s fuzzy face are plastered everywhere, and the set turns nicely into a ruined church for Smith ‘s tryst with his fellow worker Julia, and into the infamous Room 101, where he is tortured on a sci-fi appliance by the chilling O’Brien (Richard Margison).

The set easily accommodates such complex ensembles as Act 1, Scene 4, when “proles” perform a barbershop quartet, their children sing nursery rhymes, child spies of the Party relish burning an old hag and the lustful Julia leads the female Anti-Sex League in hymning chastity. There is a Dickensian quality here reminding me of Oliver! Maazel is adept at producing music for use. His cod national anthem in Scene 1 almost has one standing up. His snatches of barroom jazz have authentic smokiness. The patter-song in praise of Newspeak, delivered by another Party worker (Lawrence Brownlee) due for torture, and the coloratura for the Telescreen gym instructress (Diana Damrau) are jolly. The only problem is when the music needs to say something of its own.

If Maazel has an idiom, it is a kind of sweetening of Berg’s. The sound and fury, if not the import, of an expressionist opera such as Wozzeck are constantly available, but Maazel is always willing to inject a dose of Rachmaninov or Hollywoodwhen a softer emotion presents itself. The attempt at a love duet for Winston and Julia in the church is risible, and for all the robust commitment with which Simon Keenlyside and Nancy Gustafson adopt these roles, there is little they can do with it.Keenlyside’s superbly handled baritone is a pleasure throughout, although he is too much the matinée idol to be quite convincing as Orwell’s downtrodden functionary. His Peter Grimes- like hallucinatory monologue, in which he yearns for a Golden Country that spreads across the set before he goes to Room 101, is the perfect chance for musical expression, but remains scarily vacuous.

Reading Orwell’s beautifully written, post-Swiftian, post- nuclear satire can be, as I’ve just found, a painful, even masochistic, experience. So much of the bleak prophecy has come true. Maazel’s version was, by contrast, Grand Guignol and slow. Despite the libretto’s concision, there was a sense of text to be got through. The music offered functionality rather than vision, pastiche instead of pain — or even tunes.

Joachim Lange, Opernwelt, July 2005

Translation will follow as son as possible

“… Mit seiner Inszenierung versucht Robert Lepage nicht einmal ansatzweise, sich von der «optischen Partitur» der Verfilmung, die Michael Radford 1984 dezidiert in zeitlicher Orwell-Nähe angelegt hatte, abzusetzen. Vielmehr als Illustrationskitsch kommt dabei nicht heraus: Blaumänner fürs Volk; Winstons Arbeitsplatz im Wahrheitsministerium mit seinen verwirrenden Gängen im die Bühne beherrschenden Arena-Rund. Die düster ärmlichen Wohn- oder Kneipenzellen und das Vorstadt-Zimmer, in dem sich Winston und Julia lieben, verbergen sich dahinter. Ein utopisches Dickens-London. Wenn’s hochkommt. Die Foltermaschine O’Briens sieht aus wie von Jules Verne gebaut. Und das berüchtigte Zimmer 101, in dem jeder mit seinen schlimmsten Schreckensbildern konfrontiert wird, ist eine Art Matratzengruft, über deren Wände projizierte Ratten huschen. All das sieht nicht nur verblüffend «altmodisch» aus, es klingt auch so. Allerdings war der Beifall für Simon Keenlysides scheiternden Widerständler Winston, für Nancy Gustafson als Liebe suchende Julia, für Richard Margison als Folterer O’Brien oder für Diana Damrau als Gymnastik-Instrukteurin und betrunkene Frau sowie für den Chor und für das Orchester hoch verdient.”

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