1984: the opera

Well, it would seem that Lorin Maazel’s alleged ‘vanity project’ opera, 1984, premiered last night at Covent Garden, has more than lived down to the very low expectations of it. I must confess to know little about this project other than the Guardian’s reporting of it, but I would agree with Andrew Clements’ dismay that this is the only new opera the ROH have planned for this year and next.

This is an international opera house – it’s not as if there is any shortage of composers. They have never mounted a Philip Glass opera on the main stage; there are plenty of European composers whose work they have never done

I’m also kind of alarmed by the words of Elaine Padmore, Director of Opera at Covent Garden:

With a new piece you never know whether it’s going to be good or bad. It’s always a gamble

Well, you see, it’s not. I always get angry when football managers like Glenn Hoddle try to explain an England defeat on penalties as ‘penalties are a bit of a lottery really’. No, they’re not. If you spend half an hour practising penalties at the end of every training session, you will massively improve your results from the spot. If you don’t – as Hoddle prescribed – you end up with David Batty-esque crap. In the same way, there are established contemporary opera composers – as well as established composers who are itching to write their first opera – such as Birtwistle, Glass, Adams, Glanert, Andriessen, to name the first five that spring to mind, who deserve a place on the ROH stage. All of these composers have written successful, important operas in the last few years – and they’re hardly the only ones – so to say that staging new work from composers of such stature is ‘a bit of a gamble’ is ludicrous. Unless, of course, you hold firm to the belief that contemporary music is spiralling out of control; that OK, some decent things slip through once in a while, but in an unpredictable, unintentional fashion; that it’s all a bit of a mess these days, and no music of quality has been possible since the 19th century became the 20th; that a new Puccini will some day ride in to save us all from eternal damnation. But surely, no one in such a high position in the opera industry would actually think like that though, would they?


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