It is dawn. The Controller sits in her tower. She is content: the airport is empty - except for the Refugee: he has nowhere else to go. People start to arrive, people for the Refugee to befriend. A married couple. Bill and Tina, are going on holiday in an attempt to rediscover romance. The Older Woman is meeting a young man whom she met in Mallorca, her fiance; she would dearly like to remain inconspicuous, but.... The Steward and Stewardess go brightly about their business - some of the time. Another married couple arrive, almost late for their flight to Minsk: they ate emigrating. The Minskwoman is heavily pregnant. At the last moment she refuses to board the plane and her husband leaves without her. She is left stranded, mortified. The Refugee offers her a magic stone to comfort her.
The Immigration Officer passes through the concourse: he is always a danger to the — illegal — Refugee. The latter, warned by the Controller, manages to avoid notice, this time. The travellers are preparing to depart when the Controller announces that, because of electrical storms, all flights are indefinitely delayed.
Night has fallen and still the storm is raging. Worries beset those who are waiting. The storm has even upset the Controller's equilibrium — she leaves her tower and wanders about outside the airport. Everyone in the concourse tries fitfully to sleep, but, in pairs or alone, they secretly approach the Refugee, fascinated by his magic stone. He gives them all what they believe to be the unique stone, and they make wishes. Bill is still restless and seeks out the Stewardess. In the dark he makes a mistake and finds the Steward instead: they go off to explore the control tower. The women and the Refugee decide to get drunk, and, as they become more garrulous, the women discover that each of them has 'the' stone. They vent their anger, with dire consequences for the Refugee. The consequences of Bill and the Steward's explorations are less dire but no less cataclysmic. The Controller remains outside as the storm rages yet more fiercely.
Dawn breaks and the storm has abated. Flights are being resumed. But there are many surprises in store. The Minskman returns: he could not bear to be separated from his wife. Bill and the Steward have a surprise for their partners. Tina has a very nasty surprise for Bill. The Refugee has a surprise for the women. The Minskwoman has a surprise for everyone. The Immigration Officer returns to discover the Refugee, but when the Refugee tells his story, even the Officer has a surprising reaction. Flights are called; people leave; under the Controller's watchful eye, the airport will return to normal ... perhaps.
Taken from the Flight vocal score, Edition Peters 1997.
Flight is a unique piece of opera-theatre. Cleverly combining musical elements from multiple genres and a supremely moving story, the piece was an immediate success upon its world premiere for the Glyndebourne Touring Opera. It was, in fact, so successful on tour around the UK, that the main Glyndebourne Festival decided to include it in its mainstage repertoire the following season.
What makes Flight so accessible? To begin with, the exciting music by Jonathan Dove which I will let me colleague Brent McMunn expand on. April DeAngelis’ witty, thoughtful, contemporary libretto is easy to understand, emotionally diverse, and makes one laugh out loud at certain moments. Writing a comedic play is difficult enough but writing a comic opera with serious overtones is akin to an Olympian theatrical feat. Jonathan Dove sights a certain childlike hopefulness that he feels in his own life that pervades Flight and ultimately the characters within it.
The characters are deep, thoughtful, and not at all archetypal as is the case in so many operas. There is the married couple, Bill and Tina, who are experiencing a seven year itch and are living their lives according to a sexual guide for young troubled couples, off on a romantic holiday, hoping to rekindle their intitial senses of discovery and excitement. Then we experience Sondra, the not-so-mysterious and slightly desperate “Older Woman”, anxious to keep her heart and body alive by pursuing relationships with much younger men only to empty results, waiting for her 22 year old “fiancé”. Still, she keeps on hoping and believing in new possibilities. Next we have the libidinous Steward and Stewardess, always smiling, initially, until fate and Mother Nature intervene and throw a sizable monkey-wrench into their rocky relationship. Finally, we have the blindly ambitious, totally self-absorbed Minskman (Geoffrey) and his pregnant, slightly overdue, wife who is afraid to leave England and would rather be doing anything than having a baby. She is, at her core, terrified that she will be an inadequate mother.
The opera, however, centers around the characters of the mysterious Refugee and the quasi-Goddess figure of the Controller who lives in her tower, cut off from the seething humanity below her, seemingly afraid to associate with “people”, a dirty word in her lexicon. She is in hyper-control of her life, not daring to let anyone or anything interfere with her fragile psyche. On the other hand, she is drawn to the freeing aspects of a violent electrical storm. It seems to release her from her self-imposed cage because she can’t control it and she surrenders to the storm’s fury.
The Refugee, having escaped his home country by climbing into the wheel-well of a plane with his brother, is trapped in the airport with no immigration papers or passport or funds. He is constantly evading and hiding from the Immigration Officer, his own personal bogeyman. He is a mystic spiritualist who has occasional moments of insight into people’s futures, sometimes accurate, always positive. He lives in great hope that his brother will arrive with the necessary paperwork to enable him to leave his airport prison, out of the limbo in which he currently exists.
This singular piece of theatre directly addresses how we as a resident society deal with illegal immigrants. Will we listen to their plights, be moved and help them or will we turn our backs and pretend they are not there, that we bear no responsibility for their survival and let them be returned to their country where they will undoubtedly be treated inhumanely?
Though written in 1998, the subjects confronted in Flight resonate as loudly today as they did at the opera’s premiere. Like all great theatre, the issues of relationships, sexuality and most importantly, man’s inhumanity to man are timeless, feel distinctly contemporary, and hopefully will cause conversation as the audience travels home and for some time thereafter.
The USC Thornton Opera production of Flight is presented in memory of
Andrew A. Figueroa
beloved father, husband, and colleague.
Rest well, Andy
Mike Basak, Brent Anderson, Sharon Lavery and the USC Thornton Orchestra Program, Evan Calbi, Sean David Christensen, Jeff DeCaen, Michelle Simonsen, Heather Pio Roda, Tori Nagle and the staff of USC Thornton Production & Operations departments, Kimmie Lu, Adrianna Gonzalez, Cindy Montes, Amber Taylor, Michael Latimer, Joe Shea, Els Collins, Duncan Mahoney and the USC School of Dramatic Arts, Mark Robson, Lisa Sylvester and the faculty and staff of the USC Thornton Vocal Arts Department.
And a special thanks to Interim Dean Josh Kun whose vision for the future of USC Thornton Opera Program will be felt for many years to come.