1984 Lorin Maazel

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There was much to-do around the premiere of conductor Lorin Maazel's first opera, based on George Orwell's nightmarish novel, when it premiered at Covent Garden in 2005. The music was attacked (in some cases viciously), and there were many personal jabs at Maazel, who, according to one newspaper, funded the production to the tune of $1,000,000. Charges of eclecticism, facileness and the lack of a strong personal voice certainly hit their mark, but to dismiss 1984 simply as a vanity project is irresponsible since both the writing and the orchestration are assured in their execution.

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Maazel's cast for the London premiere was superlative. One would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling singing actor for the formidable role of Winston than English baritone Simon Keenlyside. The scenes in the interrogation room and then in the dreaded Room 101 are harrowing. The final image of the broken Winston sitting and staring into space, wide-eyed and unblinking, is particularly chilling. …