The opera, based on George Orwell's 1948 dystopian novel, opens at Covent Garden tomorrow night. Maazel, music director of the New York Philharmonic, is one of the world's leading conductors, but is less well-known as a composer. 1984 is his first opera.
Elaine Padmore, head of the Royal Opera, told the paper that a German opera administrator originally commissioned the opera. After this person, who was not named, died, the Royal Opera and Tokyo Opera agreed to co-produce the world premiere, but Tokyo Opera eventually withdrew. Maazel then decided to contribute his own money to the staging.
According to Padmore, the Royal Opera is spending about Ô£500,000 on the production. "It ends up costing us about the same as a revival of a Rigoletto, or about half of the price of a new production," she said.
Some British observers approached by the Guardian were critical of the Royal Opera, suggesting that the company was wasting its resources on a vanity project.
"The fact is that Maazel has no track record of composing opera," said Guardian critic Andrew Clement. "They have never mounted a Philip Glass opera on the main stage; there are plenty of European composers whose work they have never done, such as Kaija Saariaho and Hans Werner Henze."
"It may be more usual in the U.S. to give celebrities a platform in this way but I thought we were a bit better than that," said composer James MacMillan. "But you never know, maybe it will be a good piece."
Padmore insisted that Maazel had not bought a spot on the Covent Garden schedule. "This seemed to us to be an interesting artistic project," she said.