Like so many noted conductors, Lorin Maazel (1930 – ) has a
number of compositions to his name. The opera,
“1984,” was his first work in that genre. The premiere was
originally intended for the Prinzregententheater in Munich,
at the behest of its then director, August Everding (1928-1999).
Instead, the first performance was given at Covent Garden in
2005, with Maestro Maazel at the podium. Fortunately,
a fine DVD set of this production was released in 2008,
by the Decca label.
The accompanying booklet was translated into four
languages and included an essay by Maestro Maazel, sharing
the circumstances he faced when creating this opera.
The booklet also contains a synopsis and credits.
Years ago, I read of the premiere of this work. Until now,
I did not have the opportunity to hear any of
Maestro Maazel’s music; therefore, I naturally jumped at
the chance to watch these discs. My excitement was
tempered by remembrance of the aforementioned prior
review of the work. Despite my caution, I found it to be
quite effective, in no small part due to the libretto by
J.D. McClatchy (1945 – ) and Thomas Meehan (1929 – ).
They pared the essentials of George Orwell’s 1949 novel
down to a workable script, which afforded the singers with
ample opportunities to shine both musically and dramatically.
Maestro Maazel’s impressive score was at times both tonal
and atonal, and I believe that its historical significance will be
enhanced by both the passage of time and by additional
performances. In fact, this has been the precedent for new
operatic works of this scope, and I can’t think of many
operas written during the past 30 years that were originally
referred to as “masterpieces.” At the very least,
Maestro Maazel’s considerable experience as a conductor has
thoroughly equipped him with the knowledge of the capabilities
of orchestral instruments. I was often impressed by the
textures emanating from the Royal Opera House Orchestra,
and I also noted the score quotations of popular songs,
including “Three Blind Mice” and “London Bridges,” as well as
other songs reminiscent of the 1950’s and lest we forget,
a national anthem, “All Hail Oceania!”
The vocal cast was outstanding, particularly baritone
Simon Keenlyside (1959 – ) in the lead role of
“Winston Smith,” who had the lion’s share of stage time.
Soprano Nancy Gustafson (1956 – ) sang “Julia,” his doomed
love interest. Soprano Diana Damrau (1971 – ) sang the
roles of the “Gym Instructress” and the “Drunken Woman,”
demonstrating amazing vocal and physical flexibility, while
often singing stratospheric vocal lines. This production also
benefited from the competent and effective direction
of Robert Lepage (1957 – ).
This set also boasted a 27-minute bonus feature
“pre-opera” presentation by Maestro Maazel, wherein he
discussed the nuts and bolts of the work, while
seated at the piano.
It’s a shame that this opera hasn’t had more performances.
This is often the fate of works on this scale, which require
considerable funding. Of course, this is all the more reason
to be grateful for the release of this two-DVD set. I’m sure
that Maestro Maazel points to this performance with pride.