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1984 review at Royal Opera House London

The Royal Opera was widely criticized even before this new opera opened for accepting a piece from an untried operatic composer – though the 75-year-old American Lorin Maazel is a highly experienced conductor – when there are few opportunities for Britain’s best composers to get their work onto this stage. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

1984 turned out to be indigestible. Orwell’s classic novel is a worthwhile subject, a fine cast had been assembled and the strong production was the work of Robert Lepage. The show had everything going for it, in fact, except the score.

Despite Maazel’s long experience conducting all kinds of repertoire, he has failed to come up with music of any real quality. He knows how to write for orchestra and chorus – though even these parts of the work lack individuality – but his writing for voices is woefully dull and under-characterized. Musically, this is a long, thin and depressingly tedious evening.

The cast did their best in trying circumstances. Simon Keenlyside was predictably superb as Winston Smith, Nancy Gustafson made her mark as Julia and Richard Margison consistently impressed as the sinister O’Brien.

The German coloratura Diana Damrau and American bel canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee made some impact in smaller roles.

But the piece was a dismal flop. Despite all the world premiere razzmatazz, there were a couple of boos for Maazel at curtain time – unheard-of for a living composer at this venue.

Production Information

Royal Opera House, London, May 3, 6, 11, 14, 16, 19

Lorin Maazel
Robert Lepage
Royal Opera
Cast includes
Simon Keenlyside, Nancy Gustafson, Richard Margison
Running time