|Xiaomeng Zhang, Natalia Kutateladze, Dimitri Katotakis, Kelsey Lauritano, Jakub Jozef Orlinski, Steven Osgood, Rebecca Farley, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Nicolette Mavroleon, Matthew Swensen, and Cody Quattlebaum
Jonathan Dove's Flight arrived safely at Juilliard International Airport this week, piloted by Steven Osgood and James Darrah; all singers aboard merit a champagne toast in the Arrivals Lounge! The flight originated at Glyndebourne in 1998 and made 85 stops across Europe, Australia, and the USA. Arrivals were met with laughter and much applause.
Is there anything the singers of The Juilliard Opera cannot master? We think not! Composer Jonathan Dove was fortunate in having as librettist April de Angelis who based the story loosely on the real life tale of an Iranian refugee who was stranded for 18 years at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1988 due to immigration bungling. The story is irresistible and inspired a 2006 Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Hanks, entitled Terminal.
Our hero is a refugee who (we learn toward the end of the opera) smuggled himself to London in the wheel of a plane; his less fortunate brother fell "like a frozen star", bearing the refugee's papers. After we giggled through most of the opera, this revelation added a note of tragedy; Shakespeare's comedies also added tragedy to the mix.
The role was sung by countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski whose otherworldly angelic voice was perfect for the part. His physicality augmented his vocal artistry to evoke feelings of sympathy, not exactly felt by the motley group of passengers in the departure lounge, each of whom is obsessed with his/her own problems.
Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon and tenor Matthew Swensen beautifully portrayed a bickering couple on their way to a resort where they hope to rekindle the romance they once enjoyed earlier in their marriage. She is going by the book--a marriage manual--and wanting more sexual adventure. She gets more than she bargained for.
Diplomat Xiaomeng Zhang, a mellifluous baritone, has accepted a post in Minsk but his very pregnant wife, sung by mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze backs out at the last minute, terrified of the new responsibility of motherhood and the loss of her freedom. Her water breaking onstage was probably a dramatic first. Any woman who has been pregnant would understand her ambivalence.
Cabin personnel mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano and baritone Dimitri Katotakis have the hots for each other and their attempts to copulate provide even more humor. Their singing was as enthusiastic as their lovemaking.
Mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms used her lovely voice to portray une femme d'un certain age who has come to the airport to await a young lover she had met on vacation, a man who will never come. As funny as she is, her plight is a sad one as she sings of her loneliness.
Credit all the above artists for their gorgeous singing, fine acting, and sympathetic portrayals.
Not so sympathetic is the ice cold Controller, sung with steely tone by soprano Rebecca Farley. She seems to oversee the action and does not like people at all. She would like to have The Refugee's attention all for herself.
The Immigration Officer was portrayed by bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum who does not sing until the last scene but was worth waiting for; he even relents a bit in his authoritarian posturing after listening to The Refugee's tale of woe.
The problem of refugees is even more severe now than when the opera was written, making the presentation of this work even more timely. The Refugee wants to make friends very badly--to win favors from the passengers of course--and uses all kinds of manipulative strategies to gain his ends. People turn their backs and a blind eye toward his hunger and loneliness.
The work is powerful. We laugh and we cry.
Mr. Dove's music is infinitely more accessible than most contemporary operas. Conductor Steven Osgood made the most of the superlative musicians of The Juilliard Opera. The sound of planes taking off and the sound of the storm that interrupted the expected stream of departures were particularly well orchestrated and performed.
Director James Darrah's sure hand provided laughs aplenty in the well-considered stage business. He is endlessly creative.
Ellen Lenbergs designed the spare modern airport lounge, lit by Cameron Jaye Mock. Adam Larsen was responsible for the video projections of blue sky, clouds, and hopeful dawn when the storm ends. Mattie Ullrich's costumes were colorful and well suited to the characters. The Older Woman was particularly colorful as she worried about being conspicuous.
It is rare that we experience a contemporary opera in a positive fashion. There were no arias that we could walk out humming. But the diction was clear (with surtitles for when it wasn't) and the ensemble work was glorious. We would even consider seeing Flight again at some point in the future, which is more than we could say for other contemporary works. Still, we couldn't imagine a production as successful as this one.
(c) meche kroop