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The big shop of horrors: Lorin Maazel's opera "1984" in Regensburg


Highlights: Lorin Maazel's "2005" was released in London in 1984, and now the Regensburg Theatre is venturing into Orwellian settings with great success. The piece has aged exceptionally well, and surprisingly, the opera keeps up well with the times. The director Sebastian Ritschel was responsible for the direction himself, and the result is an intelligent realization of the piece. The Soprano Varga is not a lover as austere as Juliet, despite all his suffering, but – despite his emphasis on suffering – he does not indulge in a tone of suffering.

Hatred to the point of pogrom: Scene from the production by Sebastian Ritschel. © Marie Liebig

Lorin Maazel's "2005" was released in London in 1984, and now the Regensburg Theatre is venturing into Orwellian settings with great success. The piece has aged exceptionally well.

Just the cookies that settle on our computers. Or the many other traces that we leave behind (not only) on the net. Big Brother's business, this is the difference to 1949, the year George Orwell's novel "1984" was published, we now take care of it ourselves. Including digital hate plus affection for right-wing extremists to totalitarians – just think of the votes cast in the USA, Turkey or the recent AfD Germany trend. So the classic never becomes outdated, and surprisingly, the opera keeps up well.

In 2005, Lorin Maazel, a star conductor with a composing inclination, brought out "1984" at the Royal Opera House in London. Actually, everything was intended for Munich's Prinzregententheater, but the initiator August Everding died before the realization. The fact that Maazel did not present himself as a revolutionary was met with malice by the avant-garde disciples at the premiere. Only two more productions followed in Milan (2008) and Valencia (2011). However, the two-and-a-half-hour film has aged well, as the German-language premiere at the Regensburg Theatre shows.

It was a feat of strength for Bavaria's youngest state theatre, which had Norbert Biermann write a condensed orchestral version – with the approval of Maazel's widow Dietlinde Turban, who had travelled to the premiere. The director Sebastian Ritschel was responsible for the direction himself. His current season bears the motto "Truths". So far, there have been Gottfried von Einem's Kafka opera "The Trial", Udo Zimmermann's "White Rose" and the family opera "Pinocchio's Adventures". Regensburg dares to do something, "1984" is the far-reaching highlight of the season.

Regensburg had a reduced orchestral version written

Maazel's well-made horror is a mixture of musical grimaces, oratory, cynical street hits, ostinato pull and unrestrained tonality in the love duets. In the hate choirs, Maazel picks up where he left off with the pogrom mood of Puccini's "Turandot". Everything betrays accomplished instrumentation craftsmanship and creativity in the choice of ingredients. The fact that this score wants to please and overwhelm does not have to be a malus. Rather, that some things don't get beyond illustration. Or à la "Listen to what I can" pose. Maazel is in good company, Richard Strauss has had this attitude throughout his career.

The smaller Regensburg version may even benefit Maazel's intention. Unlike in London, where the house was flooded with stringy opulence, the score here seems more skeletonized, more aggressive. Also because conductor Tom Woods and the fabulously playing Philharmonic Orchestra Regensburg only dim where it is really necessary: "1984" at the Theater am Bismarckplatz is not only a matter for the brain, but also for the gut.

Sebastian Ritschel avoids the danger of duplication. The direction is rather stylized. One sees carefully developed psychograms of the protagonists, on which the plot and music collapse and who are confronted with an anonymous mass. In any case, Maazel's work does not offer fully formed characters. This is where tragedy prototypes come together – which makes the opera fall far behind the novel.

When you think of Kristopher Kempf's flexible metal mesh stage, you think of a prison, but also of dangerous permeability: no one goes unobserved here. The pronouncements of Big Brother are black-and-white videos (Sven Stratmann) in newsreel optics. The fact that you like to listen to the attractive voice from off-screen, all in positive newsspeak and in English, brings an additional, creepy level.

Excellent cast, adequate direction

The use of film remains cleverly dosed. The torture scenes are only hinted at (which still makes some premiere visitors leave the house). In general, the performance is very balanced in its choice of scenic means. The result is an intelligent and very adequate realization of the piece. And this also in an excellent cast: baritone Jan Żadlo has enough power and creative imagination for the dissident Winston. The fact that he does not indulge in a tone of suffering, but – despite all his emphasis – depicts the huge part in an objectifying way, as it were, fits the work and the directorial aesthetics. Soprano Theodora Varga is also not a classical lover as Juliet. The austere, gripping, harsh is just as impressive in her voice. Her great monologue, a dramatic lament, at least becomes the vocal liberation of this character. Anthony Webb portrays O'Brien, who discovers both of them and hands them over to the system, as an unmoved, dark, snake-venomous Orpheus.


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The Opera Choir and Cantemus Choir throw themselves into the piece with great dedication. How you can even feel the verve with which the Regensburg Theatre made itself its very own affair in 1984. A unanimous success with the public. And a hot opera tip. Who knows how long the three-act play will have to wait for its next premiere. In any case, the new version has proven that even medium-sized houses can risk production.

Source: merkur

All life articles on 2023-06-05

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