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In Review > North America

Flight

NEW YORK CITY
Mannes Opera
5/9/15

Mannes Opera joined forces with Parsons School of Design for the New York premiere of Jonathan Dove’s adventurous and highly entertaining Flight (May 9) at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater. Commissioned by Glyndebourne in 1998, the opera has had shamefully few performances stateside — Colin Graham’s 2003 Opera Theatre of Saint Louis staging, later seen at Boston Lyric Opera, was the work’s U. S. premiere. It’s a genuine audience-pleaser with a colorful, energetic, tonally accessible score and a relatable, witty libretto by April De Angelis that provides both belly laughs and a moving meditation on identity and connection. Based on the same source material as the Tom Hanks movie Terminal, it’s the story of a nameless Refugee living in an airport in immigration limbo. He worships the beautiful, godlike air traffic controller, who tries to dictate his behavior as she does the airline schedules. He also tries to befriend the disdainful passengers by eavesdropping on their conversations, identifying their insecurities, and offering the reassurances they crave. The playing field is leveled when they all become refugees, stranded overnight during a raging storm. Ultimately, the passengers are free to depart, and the Controller and the Refugee continue their codependent dance, although both are changed.

Of course, all the characters take a journey despite never leaving the airport. In their matching Hawaiian prints, Tina and Bill are headed to a marriage-restoring vacation toting and quoting a self-help book. Bill defies Tina’s accusations of predictability by trying something new with the randy, omnisexual Steward. The Steward and the equally lusty Stewardess have been stealing passionate encounters, but with the limitless night ahead and no need to be furtive, they find themselves with nothing to say. (Her: “You’ve got identical eyes.” Him: “You’ve got thighs.”) The panicked pregnant woman who let her businessman husband fly alone to their new life in Minsk (wickedly turning the Russian diaspora on its head) imagines the possibilities of a non-tethered life. The Older Woman, prowling the airport clutching a misleadingly encouraging postcard from a twenty-two-year-old cabana boy, unwisely attempts a makeover. The women turn to the Refugee for comfort, and then turn on him with shocking violence when they fear they’ve been duped.

As the Refugee, Siman Chung offered a creamy countertenor and a subtle characterization of an indefinably traumatized and disenfranchised man. His desperate yearning to belong was present in his watchful gaze and hopeful body language even when he silently observed the others. Philosophizing from her isolated skybox, Emily Misch dispatched the aptly-named Controller’s stratospheric coloratura with scintillating precision and an icy, possessive stare. Caitlin Cassidy’s blowsy, French-spouting Older Woman was both heartbreaking and hilarious. Tatiana Ogan lent pathos and credibility to the Minskwoman’s ricocheting emotions, and Edward Cleary stuttered with appropriate vanity as her self-centered husband. Ignacio Gama was not so intimidating as the Immigration Officer that his turnaround seemed out of character. As the Steward and Stewardess, Anthony Caputo and Maya Yahav Gour were an endless source of comic delight, while Lauren Yokabaskas and John Ramseyer cut uncomfortably familiar figures as the squabbling Tina and Bill. 

Director Laura Alley allowed the comic elements to reach their full farcical potential and gave the moody, introspective sections time to breathe. Roger Hanna’s chromium tunneled airport lounge managed to be both spacious and claustrophobic. Helen E. Rodgers’s costumes added dimension to the characterizations, and Jeff Davis’s lights skillfully indicated the storm and the passage of time. (All three designers were assisted by Parsons students.)

Flight is imaginatively but heavily orchestrated, and the players spilled over the sides of the pit, which was raised almost to stage level. As a result, the singers were frequently overpowered, especially when singing in their lower registers. That said, the orchestra played splendidly under the dexterous baton of Joseph Colaneri. spacer 

JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER

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