Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Big Brother is listening to you...or not

Here's the Guardian's take on 1984 at Covent Garden, which has been less than well reviewed today. The gist of this report is that the whole thing is basically a vanity project because Maazel has put his own money into it and that someone (unnamed) within the ROH has described the opera as 'crap'. The cost to the ROH has been about £500,000, the cost of a normal opera like Rigoletto, or half of a normal 'non vanity' premiere.

I can't help reflecting that the vast majority of new operas are actually crap. As they always have been. The immortal strains of La Boheme, Die Meistersinger and even Don Giovanni were always the tip of the iceberg. For every successful and enduring opera, there must be at least 20 that bite the dust the minute they are aired. As they say, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince, and you have to listen to a lot of contemporary crap before you find something that really is worth the money that its company has devoted to it. Tom Ades's operas do so well that I've never yet been able to get into one, so I can't judge them. But in the meantime, I was less than thrilled by Nicholas Maw's 'Sophie's Choice', a Covent Garden commission which had its moments but which I would be quite happy never to hear again. As for Birtwistle - well, really, the amount of money that must have gone into HIS operas really doesn't bear thinking about. Critics love them, for some reason best known to themselves; but I have never yet met one member of the general public who regarded them as anything but 'crap'. Other works I remember sitting through include 'Golem' by John Casken (at the QEH, admittedly) and Robin Holloway's 'Clarissa', hampered by a fearful production at ENO donkey's years ago; both could usefully have been left in peace in someone's bottom drawer. All of these together must have cost the public purse a lot more than £0.5m and frankly Maazel's work has as good a chance as any of them of making an impact or, more likely, not. Does the Guardian really think that it's better to have Covent Garden fork out the full subsidised whack for officially approved, establishment-accepted crap? Crap is still crap, whoever foots the bill.

Meanwhile Andrew Lovett writes to me from Cambridge about his new opera with digital video, 'Abraham on Trial' , which DOES sound interesting. World premiere is at The Junction, Cambridge, on 20 May. Full details here. As usual, the really creative stuff does not take place within the establishment heartlands.