Saturday, May 8, 2021

"Flight” soars in filmed version by Seattle Opera

Sharleen Joynt as the Controller | Video still by Kyle Seago

Seattle Opera’s film production of “Flight” soared with excellent singing, acting and storytelling, taking this not-so-well-known opera on a new trajectory across laptops and tablets in living rooms around the globe. Directed by Brian Staufenbiel, this innovative, cinematic presentation of Jonathan Dove’s opera made terrific use of The Museum of Flight, repositioning it as an airport lounge and the deck of the traffic controller. Through a variety of close-ups, wide shots, split screens, and other visual wizardly – thanks to film director and sound designer Kyle Seago – “Flight” connected terrifically as a modern comic gem.

Commissioned by Glyndebourne and written in 1998 by Dove with a libretto by April De Angelis, “Flight” is based loosely on the real-life drama of an Iranian refugee, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived for 18 years in Charles de Gaulle Airport. In “Flight” the role of the Refugee was beautifully expressed by Randall Scotting, whose mellifluous countertenor expressed dreams and hopes that exist far beyond the departure lounge.

But “Flight” does not revolve merely around the predicament of the Refugee. Rather, it conveys the experience of nine additional characters as they crisscross each other at the airport terminal. There’s Bill and Tina, sung persuasively by Joshua Kohl and Karen Vuong, respectively, seeking to rekindle their love for each other despite ongoing doubts by taking a vacation to a romantic destination.

Another couple, the Minksman and the Minskwoman, had their own set of troubles. Aubrey Allicock was terrifically convincing as the self-centered diplomat who looked forward to his promotion to the cold, gray capital city in a remote land, but he was countered equally perfectly Karin Mushegain as the pregnant wife, whose last-minute refusal to board their plane stuck her overnight at the airport.

Margaret Gawrysiak, marvelously created the Older Woman, who hoped to meet a much younger lover. With effervescent smiles and ready-to-please demeanor, Sarah Larson as the Stewardess and Joseph Lattanzi as the Steward cheerfully covered any issue when it was announced that all flights would be delayed because of violent weather.

Sharleen Joynt’s coloratura soprano travels amazingly sky-high when describing the wonder of jets coming and going, and she easily put a glint of steel into her voice when conveying disgust at the randy assignations between the Steward and Stewardess.

Damien Geter embodied an understanding Immigration officer with a resonant bass-baritone. The Refugee has a magic stone that his gives away, but that gesture has unanticipated consequences.

Randall Scotting as The Refugee and Damien Geter as the Immigration Officer | Philip Newton photo

 The chamber orchestra, conducted expertly by Viswa Subbaraman, sounded excellent throughout. One of the big ensemble numbers was wonderfully presented as a configuration of Zoom-like boxes on the instrument console of a plane.

Although this opera is lightweight, it proved to be an excellent anecdote for those of us who, like the otherworldly Refugee, are stuck at home. The libretto is witty for the most part and the music is very accessible with some segments – such as the opening when planes are taking off – that remind me a lot of John Adams’ style.

The high quality of the film makes me wonder what other operas can be undertaken with a cinematic lens. Perhaps the operatic film could become a new genre unto itself. There are certainly a lot of possibilities especially for new works that have yet to be imagined.

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