CURRENT: Airline Icarus
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CURRENT: Airline Icarus

spacer Huhtanen, Szabó; Thomson, Dobson, Sirett; chamber chorus and orchestra, Current. Libretto online only. Naxos 8.660356


Icarus, of Greek myth, used the wax wings his father made him but flew too close to the sun, which melted the wings, causing Icarus to plunge back to earth and drown.

Airline Icarus, Canadian composer Brian Current’s edgy new chamber opera with a shape-shifting libretto by Anton Piatigorsky, traffics in dualities — the mythic and the mundane, the sublime and the terrifying, and the dangerous combination of hubris and technology. Passengers board a plane (on Current Air, as the writers have felicitously dubbed it), which takes off, encounters turbulence and seems to disappear but actually escapes danger in the end. We learn immediately that the tale is couched in myth, because a background chorus chants “Icarus” while a baggage man is loading the plane and gruffly soliloquizing. 

In flight, the usual mundane activities of air travel take place, and a pseudo-romantic quadrangle emerges: the flight attendant is flirting with the businessman, who is fantasizing about the ad executive next to him, who thinks the scholar next to her is attractive. The scholar, just by coincidence, is traveling to Cleveland to present an academic paper on “the tragic death of airborne Icarus.” Current’s musical language is excitingly original. Some of it sounds like controlled chaos — disorienting yet vitalizing — but a surprising (and genuinely emotional) lyricism emerges in the vocal lines. The entire piece, despite its protean quality, is clearly unified by a singular and compelling musical sensibility. The composer uses his eight-piece instrumental ensemble (plus a ninth, credited as “trigger of audio files”) for vivid, non-clichéd evocations of taxiing, takeoff, turbulence and oblivion. The penultimate track is an ethereal “Pilot’s Aria,” first solemnly and then soaringly intoned by baritone Alexander Dobson (who also sings the part of the baggage attendant in the opening). The plane may have disappeared, but it doesn’t interfere with the pilot’s private bliss.

Current, who also conducts the performance, has the skill to make the most of the contrapuntal implications of Piatigorsky’s colorful and resonant libretto. The crosscutting between the exterior conversation and interior monologues of the ad exec (Carla Huhtanen) and the businessman (Geoffrey Sirett) is genuinely comedic. The best exchange, however, comes when the businessman orders a drink from the flight attendant (Krisztina Szabó): “How much?” “It’s on the house.” “What house?”


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