Dove's Flight has made an auspicious landing in
Flanders. The new co-production with Glyndebourne Touring Opera had
its Belgian premiere at the Vlaamse Opera Antwerp and is to fly on to
Ghent. Two roles were taken by singers from the original production,
Nuala Willis, who portrays with great dignity the Older Woman
waiting hopelessly for her holiday 'fiancé', and Christopher
Robson, stepping back at short notice into the role he had created
as the Refugee, waiting for his brother who had fallen to his death
from the wheel of the plane in which they were both stowaways. The Flemish
Opera orchestra under Paul McGrath gave a fully realised account
of the score, and the Antwerp audience (which was supplied with the
full English text and with bi-lingual French/Flemish surtitles) received
Flight with unbounded enthusiasm.
This compelling modern day parable of messy human lives
becoming grounded by emotional turbulence gains immeasurably from being
seen a second time and was, if anything, even more powerful in the settings
at Vlaamse Opera, its exquisitely ornate 19th C interior a perfect counterpoint
to the somewhat tacky functionalist stage picture of an airport departure
lounge and control room. The prison analogy of people trapped in uncongenial
surroundings is pertinent and potent. The first time, Dove's original
score, daringly 'accessible' and deceptively simple, dominated my attention.
Second time round it receded into a proper perspective, falling into
place and allowing fuller concentration upon the whole dramma per
musica, which is far more metaphorical than its seeming realism
suggests at first.
The creation and production of Flight was in
every way a group achievement, which must have evolved through a long,
exciting process of collaboration. April de Angelis's libretto
repays thorough study to grasp its psychological depth. It portrays
complex human circumstances, often uncomfortable and sad, enhanced with
precise language counterpointed with humour and funny situations.
Richard Jones' direction is magisterial in his deployment of a Mozartean
ensemble of principals and in his control of their ever-changing relationships.
The detail of Giles Cadle's stage picture and
Nicky Gillibrand's costumes are essential in placing the action,
watched over from above by the Controller (Mary Hegarty), a character
with many resonances, whose aloofness gives way to vulnerability as
she comes to relate to the Refugee after the feared Immigration Officer
(Brindley Sherrat) has been turned into a benign deus ex machina
figure at the end. The Refugee, Christopher Robson in fine voice, his
body-language further developed since the 1998 premiere, is rejected
as a nuisance until his 'story' has been belatedly disclosed, and only
then at last treated as a human being by the passengers, preoccupied
with their own problems whilst take-off was delayed by electric storms.
The final act is full of surprises and unsuspected depths under its
surface brilliance. Mimi Jordan Sherin's creative lighting underscores
the story with its breadth of meanings and references, brilliantly illuminating
'darkness', hilariously so in the Whitehall-farcical lost trousers scene,
which veers to echo Figaro's wrigglings to get out of a scrape in Mozart's
Act 2! The more that the lies multiply in desperate efforts to dissimulate,
the brighter and harder is the light.
For what may be the first birthing in opera to take
place in full view, messily confused as these things are, the framing
and lighting supported the virtuosity of the direction, and of Catherine
Malone's choreography, to evoke touchingly a tender Nativity scene
at the crucial pivotal moment, a catalyst for change which generates
new beginnings and a tenuous resolution of the many personal conflicts
being enacted for a group of people who entered as stereotypes and had
grown into individuals with whom we could identify.
There are no minor characters, each has an essential
and rewarding part to play and sing, with no let-downs. Brett Polegato
and Nerys Jones provide us (and each other) with some light relief as
the carefree, sexy steward and stewardess who are 'always smiling as
you can see'. John McVeigh and Yvette Bonner portrayed convincingly
the young couple's fraught and stressed relationship, studying a sex
manual, their spiky tension covered by bubbling exteriors; Robert Poulton
and Christine Rice, the older pair whose relationship had reached an
impasse, go through separation and reconciliation. In a brilliant coup
de theatre all the travellers, including the jilted Older Woman, fly
off with new hope, a bitter-sweet resolution and as equivocal an ending
as that of Cosi Fan Tutte.
Flight bids fair to becoming an enduring classic
of late 20th C opera. Jonathan Dove is a prolific composer
who engages himself in British musical life in a way that Benjamin Britten
used to. He has made important contributions to community opera in London
Palace in the Sky and The
Hackney Chronicles, and his next major opera for the world's
opera stages is keenly awaited.
Peter Grahame Woolf