Wednesday marked the third performance of "1984" at the Royal Opera House. "1984" is American composer Lorin Maazel's first attempt at opera and after a failed production attempt at another opera house, he and his production company (Big Brother Productions) brought it to Covent Garden agreeing to cover some of the cost of production which Londonist is sure didn't hurt his chances of having it on this year's bill.
Londonist read many a scathing review before attending this past Wednesday. Most notably The Guardian review which very clearly said,
"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."
In other moments in this review, Andrew Clements compares "1984" to Oliver and during Londonist's attendance we overheard one patron of the Arts compare moments of it to Andrew Lloyd Weber. You can't really dig much deeper into Maazel and "1984" than comparing it to Broadway when opera is being attempted.
Still there are some reviews out there not as harsh as The Guardian. The Independent noted,
"There is strong solo work. Simon Keenlyside embodies Winston's all-too-human mix of strength and weakness in a performance of great physical expression and vocal stamina. Nancy Gustafson, as Julia, and Richard Margison as the duplicitous O'Brien have moments when they shine and moments when they have to work hard. Pick of the cameos was Lawrence Brownlee's Syme, a virtuoso display from a voice of quite astonishing range."
But overall the sentiment is that "1984" fails. Seen and Heard most succinctly put the views of most reviewers,
" The problem with this new opera is that it is rarely opera at all and in the opera house it works against every construct of what an opera should do. Its trickery is to seduce the eyes rather than the ears; in that sense, 1984 fails lamentably as opera."
For more reviews see The Opera Critic.
Now seeing that "1984" has been slammed by most professional reviewers, here is what we have to say...
This was Londonist's first contemporary opera and Puccini "1984" was not, but you can hardly expect Maazel in his first attempt to produce something of that quality. The main cast was strong, particuarly Keenlyside as Winston. When he was on stage you could not help but pay attention to him - he commanded your attention, his voice perfection at every moment. The same could not be said for Gustafson's Julia who at times we could barely hear over the orchestra. The cast of supporting roles all did a good job as well, with the athletic instructor/drunken prole being the most incredible of them all.
The strongest impression left on us though was the incredible set design. A circular, rotating, and metal structure provided the most interesting aspect of the production - almost distracting us at time from paying attention to the soloists. You can see stills of the plans here to start to get a sense.
In our opinion, it was a Wednesday evening well spent. Perhaps because we don't have a strong sense of what the mission of the ROH is or a strong conviction to classic opera tastes we can't reach the levels of disgust for "1984" that The Guardian does. Maybe it isn't your typical opera, but how can you expect to draw new audiences, investment, and creativity if the industry only sticks to what it knows?
Londonist would be interested to see if any of our readers won tickets through the Travelex scheme @ the ROH we posted about earlier and if so, what they thought of "1984".