First, I will admit that Jonathan Dove’s 1998 opera Flight has particular personal significance for me (I saw it the same night as I met my partner and happily the rest is history), so I have a special affection and admiration for it. Since it forms part of the Opera Holland Park’s season in London this summer I am taking the opportunity to spread the word about it and will also be back to write a review.
Flight, Glyndebourne 1998
- Nuala Willis (Older Woman), Anne Mason (Minskwoman),
Richard Coxon (Bill), Mary Plazas (Tina),
Christopher Robson (Refugee)
Glyndebourne, Mike Hoban
Dove created the opera with a libretto by established British playwright April de Angelis. It is based in part on the true story of an Iranian refugee who lived for many years in one of the terminals at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport. He is the inspiration for the Refugee, the character at the centre of the work (sung at OHP by James Laing) who, it emerges in the course of the opera, escaped his country of origin by stowing away in the undercarriage of an aircraft with his brother, who died in transit.
De Angelis’ libretto is highly skilled, treading successfully a path between bawdy comedy and serious drama, and her characters are developed in depth. She has an ear for the lyric stage, too – “Luggage left alone, unloaded, will be immediately exploded” announces the Controller.
Dove’s music develops the drama in a deft and mercurial way. Its contemporary nature need frighten nobody, as it is highly accessible, mixing musical styles and using thematic material and different instrumentation to portray his characters, building to a truly grand operatic climax in the “take off” of the third act. His style is reminiscent of others both in the classical and music theatre idiom (John Adams and Stephen Sondheim spring to mind), but is nonetheless distinct, rarely simply derivative. Listeners will notice his witty use of familiar airport and “holiday” sounds in the orchestra, along with the marimba (and the rest of a fully stocked percussion section), all of which create a unique sound world. His vocal lines, too, are memorable, particularly for the other-worldly Refugee and Controller, written originally for counter tenor Christopher Robson and coloratura soprano Claron McFadden. Dove’s innate gift for communication through music perhaps explains how his work continues to appeal to a particularly broad audience, including children.
I hope Londoners and those from further afield will take the opportunity to become acquainted with this wonderful piece. I understand seats are still available for their production which opens on June 6 for five performances only (see picture) with a cast of established performers (Lucy Schaufer, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, Victoria Simmonds) and rising stars (Jennifer France, Kitty Whateley, George von Bergen).
I also understand that there are reduced price available for under-30s so readers - please alert any young people who may be interested in a very special night at the opera – including those who have never experienced the art form before.
Flight opens on June 6 at Opera Holland Park. For more information - box office 0300 999 1000, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.operahollandpark.com –