1984, Royal Opera House, London
Thursday 05 May 2005
In George Orwell's novel, one man takes on the system. The story behind the conductor Lorin Maazel's operatic version is similar: one musician takes on the opera world and bends it to his will: unable to get any theatre to stage 1984, Maazel set up his own company and made an offer that the Royal Opera apparently couldn't refuse.
The librettists, JD McClatchy and Thomas Meehan, have delivered a concise, pacy 1984 in which paranoia often looms larger than politics, just as it does in the novel. Robert Lepage's restless, unflinching production and the control of pace in Maazel's conducting, as much as in his composing, give the two and a half hours of action a focus and, at times, a grandeur that keeps the attention.
Yet, if you catch Radio 3's broadcast on 25 May, you may find the music is a mishmash of high and low points. For every sly allusion and delicate touch of orchestration, there is a blast of irony, trumpets to the fore, with all the subtlety of the low-tech torture machine that is the centrepiece of Carl Fillion's convincingly claustrophobic set for the second act.
The opera improves steadily after beginning in an extended but noisy stasis: the "hate session" keeps the chorus rooted to the spot, with isolated members rising to their feet to praise Big Brother in a trance-like ecstasy and the music working in parallel with its sound and fury strictly on the surface. Many of the choruses are too frantic for the singers to articulate words, and the scenes of London low-life are a Neverland of clichéd pub characters.
The best of the big moments is the arrival of a flying bomb, terrifying in its own right as a piece of staging, and taking on inevitable further resonance in the light of 9/11.
While the spacing of the opera's main climaxes is judicious, the solo writing has greater variety, and Maazel's scoring works best on an intimate scale. But, even here, melodic lines are forgettable and several roles depend on parody and do not establish character.
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.
To 19 May (020-7304 4000)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 4 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 5 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson 'can't front ITV motoring show' due to BBC contract clause
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts