Flight: A Comic Opera for the 21st Century

Sometimes it is hard to laugh at modern opera. The subject matter is often somber. The performers sing in highly emotional, even profound ways. And let’s face it, a good 21st century comic opera is hard to find. Then there is Jonathan Dove’s Flight, a funny, poignant, and thought-provoking exploration of colliding souls, each of whom is looking for something better, searching for that elusive dream state we sometimes call happiness.

With their missed connections, giddy sense of dislocation, and potential for random encounters, airports are rife with comic potential. For proof, look no further than Dove’s inspired retelling of the story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived in the departure lounge of Terminal One in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport from August 1988 until July 2006.

In Flight we spend one fateful night with a particularly quirky group of would-be passengers who are obliged to sleep in the airport because a terrible storm has grounded all flights. The Controller—the only character who seems to have any autonomy—comments throughout the opera like a Goddess from her tower. She is obsessed with the poor Refugee, who has fallen under her trance via her public address announcements. Along the way there is sex, violence, love, and a new life. Much of the action is unknowingly instigated by the Refugee, whose precarious plight and ultimate destination become more clear as the storm abates.

Of course the metaphorical resonance of all this turbulent, sometimes jubilant action cannot be ignored. As we watch the events at the airport unfold, we may find ourselves wondering where life’s journey is taking us. And how exactly do we deserve the almost-unperceived freedom that allows us to come and go as we please?

To help bring these themes into focus, I conceived this production as a kind of fishbowl; we gaze in at the characters, appraising them voyeuristically as if in a glass bowl that magnifies their every move. That magnification is rendered literal through video and media treatments projected in the front and rear of the terminal.

And now, please note that the Maestro is preparing for takeoff. If you haven’t already done so, make sure that your seat backs and opera glasses are in their full and upright position. Please relax and enjoy this Flight.


Brian Staufenbiel, Production Concept


Don’t miss your chance to see Flight when it comes to the Ordway for 5 performances, January 25-February 2! Tickets are on sale now, but going fast. Get yours at mnopera.org/flight! To learn more about Brian Staufenbiel, click here.

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