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Juilliard Opera

In Review Juilliard Flight hdl 217
Orliński, Katotakis, Lauritano and Farley in Flight at Juilliard
© Rosalie O’Connor

JUILLIARD'S PRODUCTION of Jonathan Dove’sFlight, directed by James Darrah, conducted by Steven Osgood and cast with a tight ensemble of charming and promising students (seen Nov. 16), made a compelling case for the 1998 work as a major modern masterpiece, both musically and dramatically. Ellen Lenbergs’s abstract airport set, defined only by a few short rows of chairs and made up mostly of large, towering geometric blocks, became the canvas for antic, brightly colored screwball comedy, a Mozartean farce of escalating boffo under Darrah’s direction. But Dove’s opera also carves out space for horror, surprisingly pitting frivolity against extremity. 

According to Thomas May’s program note, the music for Bill and Tina, a couple whose marriage is seriously and amusingly tested, is written in notes you can play on the white keys of the piano; it codes them as privileged, possessing the ability, like most of the opera’s other characters—an older woman waiting for a younger fiancé, a hot-and-heavy steward and stewardess—to worry over relatively silly romantic anxieties, willfully ignorant of the difficulties of the dispossessed among them. 

That would be the Refugee, whose otherness Dove establishes musically: the part is written for countertenor, thus sung in an unearthly high register. (The Refugee is trapped at the airport because he has lost his papers, and his backstory is tragic; you might think of the opera as The Terminal: The Opera, as, like Spielberg’s film, it’s loosely based on the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri.) Jakub Józef Orlin´ski played the character as a mischievous observer and Puckish instigator. His singing was ethereally precise (though his English prosody was occasionally not), and his performance was impressively physical; Orlin´ski was spun around, tossed aside and almost torn apart, to which he abandoned himself with conspicuous enthusiasm. 

In general, the cast consisted of solid actors and capable singers. Matthew Swensen and Nicolette Mavroleon, as Bill and Tina, had a naturalistic affinity, at once intimate and delicately at odds—like a real married couple; at first, they sang with the sweet tones of a Disney prince and princess, but soon they became either expertly defensive (him) or excellently nagging (her). Dimitri Katotakis, as the Steward, stood out, singing with ringing heroism, matched in wondrous power by Kelsey Lauritano, as the Stewardess. The two had a comfy comic rapport. 

Rebecca Farley, as the Controller, a misanthrope who makes the loudspeaker announcements, was poised and bright but a little hazy; Farley’s soprano is short on sheer strength, but she compensated with impeccable breath control and pitch. Amanda Lynn Bottoms, as the Older Woman, sounded uncentered. Natalia Kutateladze, as the Minskwoman, started out wobbly but finally let loose on Act II’s “I bought this suitcase in New York,” using her solid bottom range for dramatic attack and giving her ample vibrato something to do. In the small role of her husband, Xiaomeng Zhang had confidence and a tone as chiseled as Mitt Romney’s jawline.

Against the back wall, Adam Larsen’s projections of clouds suggested the weather and the changing moods of the piece, in conjunction with Cameron Jaye Mock’s evocative lighting. Mattie Ullrich’s colorful costumes—as well as the libretto’s lax airport security—
ably suggested an earlier era. And conductor Steven Osgood, who recently collaborated with Darrah for the Breaking the Waves premiere in Philadelphia, led the Juilliard Orchestra with steadiness and passion through the score’s many disparate styles—the John Adams-esque cacophonies, the punishingly Straussian passages, the jazzy sections that sound like Trouble in Tahiti on antidepressants. The evening was the great sum of all its parts—a real and rousing success.  —Henry Stewart 

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