Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Approaching a quarter century ago, the premise of the airport-set Flight by composer Jonathan Dove and librettist April de Angelis – a comic opera inspired by the plight of an Iranian refugee who lived for years in Paris Charles de Gaulle – was bold. When it was most recently seen in Glasgow, in Scottish Opera’s 2018 staging, it was an established contemporary classic.
This much-delayed RCS version, with a cast that, doubling five of the roles, draws on three year-groups of students whose studies have been interrupted by the pandemic – some of them now graduated – arrives at a time when Europe has a new refugee crisis and the notion of two of the characters possibly embarking on a new life in Minsk, the capital of Russia-aligned Belarus, has an unintended resonance.
Whether we are in the precise here-and-now is hard to say. Those with more fashion nous than myself might have a precise view on the costuming. The dramatic concrete architecture of the suggested concourse in Tom Paris’s design is certainly drawn from recent airport construction, but the “space age” instruments visible in the control tower have a retro look and the stratospheric soprano Controller herself – Rosalind Dodson in this cast – prefaces her announcements with a few chimes on a glockenspiel, like the Rydell High School secretary in Grease.
Director James Bonas delights in all the details of his staging, in the luggage and the drinks trolley, magazines and make-up, and a disturbingly realistic puppet new-born, but never loses sight of the bigger picture – the classic one of a handful of well-drawn characters confined in a dramatic space.
The weird distant relationship between the Controller and the Refugee (counter-tenor Matt Paine) is particularly well drawn, while Claudia Haussmann and Cameron Mitchell swiftly establish the comic potential of Tina and Bill’s rocky marriage, paralleled by the more hedonistic attitude of the Steward (Jonathan Forbes Kennedy) and Stewardess (Charlotte Richardson).
There is lots of playing with stereotypes by Dove and de Angelis and these young singers are particularly successful in catching the cliches in the roles of the women, the quartet of female passengers completed by Polish mezzo Wiktoria Wizner as a sultry, if stood-up, fiancée, and Scots mezzo Lindsay Grace Johnson following her Mutter in Hansel und Gretel with the infant-producing Minskwoman.
In this cast, completed by baritones Toki Hamano as Minskman and Eoin Foran as the Immigration Officer, there is not a weak link in vocal performance, and while individual arias are all secure and characterful, even when technically demanding, it is the ensemble work that persists in the mind. These young people may not have been studying together, and some now work far away, but they have come together as a coherent company that more than matches the professional performance we saw four years ago, and that goes for their gestural and collective movement as well as their singing.
Dove’s score is terrifically colourful, in its clever depiction of human reaction to stress as much as in the broader scenic depiction of storm and dawn, and the brand new reduced orchestration he has made for this production is superbly performed by the pit orchestra – actually 30 rather than the 19 Covid restrictions at one time demanded – under conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren. His tempi are brisk, but not a detail of the score was lost, and the three percussionists should have their own special mention.
Further performances March 14, 16 and 18.
Picture by Robert McFadzean/RCS shows Lindsay Johnson as Minskwoman