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Commentary

Mehran Karimi Nasseri
19 May 2015

Jonathan Dove’s Flight, Opera Holland Park

On 6 June, Jonathan Dove’s Flight touches down in Kensington, west London. Opera Holland Park is to stage the first London production of Dove’s operatic presentation of the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian exile who, lacking residency rights or refugee status, was forced to live in the departure lounge of Terminal One at Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years.

Jonathan Dove’s Flight, Opera Holland Park

By Claire Seymour

Above: Mehran Karimi Nasseri

 

Commissioned by Glyndebourne Opera and premiered in September 1998 by Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Richard Jones’ original production of Flight was subsequently staged twice in the main house, in 1999 and 2005. The opera was televised by Channel 4 in 1999, and there have since been more than 80 productions across Europe and in the US. The critical response has been near-universally euphoric.

Flight is a rarity in more ways than one. Modern-day operatic comedies are few and far between, and there can’t be many new comic operas that have received such universal acclaim since the days of Rossini and Donizetti. Moreover, how many operas are there set in an airport lounge or which feature on-stage childbirth? Yet, airports are places of transit through which pass representatives of all walks of life and in which relationships develop and unravel, and the libretto, by British playwright April de Angelis, presents an ensemble cast of 10 which serves as a microcosm of the human condition.

Glyndebourne’s General Director, Anthony Whitworth-Jones, wondered when commissioning the work whether Dove could create ‘A Marriage of Figaro for the 1990s’. Flight certainly shares Figaro’s integration of the serious and the comic. While there is much to raise a belly laugh, the Refugee’s own narrative is profoundly moving, his ‘imprisonment’ poignantly juxtaposed with the freedom of those inside the aircraft which we see take off, his life ‘on pause’ while those around him quite literally move forward.

Dove’s score is eclectic: by turns extravagantly ‘Romantic’ and restrictively ‘minimalist’, one can detect echoes from Shostakovich to Britten (not least in the word setting) to Sondheim.

Funny yet provocative, topical but also indebted to the past, Flight has become one of the most popular and oft-performed British operas of recent decades. As Fiona Maddocks, writing in the Observer commented: ‘One reason Jonathan Dove’s Flight was such a triumph at Glyndebourne is that he understands the marriage of theatre and music. He knows how to rouse passions and raise smiles. Tunes flow in abundance, and for him, creating a mood, capturing a feeling for an instant, are second nature.’

Flight will be performed at Opera Holland Park on June 6, 10, 12, 17, 19 at 7.30pm. Tickets for those under 30 years-of-age cost just £20.

Click here for an exclusive interview with Jonathan Dove .

Claire Seymour

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