There’s an air of uncertainty amongst the audience as the first act of Jonathan Dove’s Flight draws to a close. Lyricist April de Angelis’ libretto is sharp and witty with a razor-like edge, and the massive airport set is towering and imposing. But there’s an air of jovially and almost populist sensibility to the piece – which, by the way, takes its inspiration form the same story that Steven Spielberg based The Terminal – and the assembled opera buffs, who have braved the weather to attend and watched the curtain rise with an air of grim-faced defiance, has thinned slightly by the time the ice-cream tubs have been discarded and the second act commences.
This reviewer, however, remained staunchly in his seat. This is no recycled Tom Hanks vehicle, despite what some people may have presupposed, and there have been subtle but insistent themes of discord throughout the lighter music of the first act, along with an uncomfortable feeling of all being not right amongst the Benidorm-style back stories of the airport’s travellers, interlaced throughout with Jennifer France’s haunting soprano as she towers above the rest of the cast from her lofty control tower like some futurist Queen of the Night. And now, as the curtain rises on act two, we find the set in semi-darkness as a storm rages outside the giant airport windows and intrigues and assignations take place amongst the stranded passengers while the score really comes into its own and the music visibly soars.
With an audible pulse thumping, the action swerves into thinly-disguised magical realism under the cover of darkness, the contemporary setting melting into an almost Germanic legend as the Refugee (James Laing) barters magic stones for favours amongst the stranded passengers. You can almost visualise a similar Wagnerian scenario where the mountain troll insinuates himself amongst the villagers only to be spurned by them when his supernatural ability is proved to be false, as happens here when the act concludes on a sombre note.
Flight is a disturbing piece of magical realist storytelling with clever lyrics and a complex score that will stand the test of being heard over and over again. To quote the lady who smiled at me as she prepared to go out and face the near-Siberian weather of the night outside – masterful.