Review: FLIGHT Soars through an Exciting and Enlightening Journey at The Dallas Opera

This stunning TDO premiere runs March 4, 6, 9, and 12.

By: Mar. 07, 2022

Review: FLIGHT Soars through an Exciting and Enlightening Journey at The Dallas Opera

A few years ago, finding myself with an hour to kill before my flight out of Warsaw's Chopin Airport, I did what every devil with idle hands does during a layover and grabbed a drink from the terminal bar. I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me; it was the least I could do for someone who offered to order me a drink without me having to show off my talent for butchering the Polish language. He introduced himself as Jakob. He is a human rights attorney based in Amsterdam who was visiting family in Poland for the holidays. I told him I was there doing research. He is gay, as am I. Sixty minutes flew by faster than we could drink our beers, and when the final boarding call for my flight was made, we embraced. He invited me to look him up if I ever found myself in Amsterdam. I likely will never see him again.

Forgive the personal anecdote, but I hope it reminds you of cherished memories from your own travels: a long conversation with a beautiful stranger on a red-eye flight, an encouraging smile to a mother wrangling children at baggage claim, drinks with individuals from all walks of life who whom you might not otherwise have spoken to. The Dallas Opera's premiere production of Jonathan Dove's Flight beautifully captures these happenstance experiences in all their simplicity, magic, humor, and heartbreak, reminding us that we are at our most human when we find ourselves at our most vulnerable. The production runs March 4, 6, 9, and 12 at the Winspear Opera House.

Flight developed out of the same real-life news oddity that inspired Steven Spielberg's 2004 film The Terminal. The opera is structured around the observations and interactions of a Refugee (John Holiday) who-for reasons never clear nor particularly important-cannot leave the airport terminal where he currently resides nor return to his home country. Over the course of a stormy night, when canceled flights leave ten strangers stranded in the terminal until morning, the Refugee finds himself in the company of Tina and Bill (Elena Villalón and Andrew Stenson), a married couple looking to spice up their love life with a tropical vacation; a diplomat heading to assignment in Minsk with his very pregnant wife (Seth Carico and Catherine Martin); a Steward and Stewardess who can't keep their hands off one another (Will Liverman and Kristen Choi); a romantic Older Woman (Deanne Meek) waiting on the arrival of her much younger fiancé; an overbearing Controller (Abigail Rethwisch); and the Immigration Officer (Zachary James) whose ominous presence is felt even when he isn't depicted onstage.

Ensemble shows such as Flight present distinct challenges to its directors, not only in having to stage a performance in such a way that allows each character to shine without overpowering the others while also carefully navigating the wild shifts in tones and styles in Dove's demanding yet evocative score. Director Kristine McIntyre expertly sticks the landing in every regard, embracing the startling realism of the piece as well as the sublime surrealism that inevitably arises when borders are crossed and personalities collide. The Dallas Opera Orchestra, helmed masterfully by conductor Emmanuel Villaume, plays with an excitement and power appropriate for a local premiere, and patrons who seemed hesitant about the new piece before the curtain rose readily applauded after the first act's final sting. It's clear TDO has a hit on their hands that will be welcomed back with open arms in the years to come.

As the refugee, Holiday--a Dallas native making his TDO debut--rarely leaves the action of the stage, a delightful treat for audiences since his soaring countertenor contains the passion and power necessary to transport viewers swiftly into the world of the opera. As he hopes and yearns, so too do we, even though we know such hope is increasingly baseless. This dramatic irony provides Holiday's scenes with much of their comedy as well as their heartrending pathos. The opera's numerous couples blend well both musically and in terms of their acting abilities. Liverman and Choi maintain a cold professionalism in front of the passengers that gives them a strong base from which to launch off into their lustful reveries as the night goes on. Villalón sings with an assertive sensuality appropriate for her character, who wishes Bill would be more sexually adventurous. When Stenson finally gets to break out of Bill's safe shell, he does so with sky-shaking thunder (with ample help from Liverman, though this duet must be seen to be fully appreciated). And while the performers are careful not to spend longer than necessary in the spotlight, Martin's first act solo-in which she finally lets out her anxieties about becoming a mother-is perhaps the musical highlight of the evening, though there's plenty of competition for this title. Where Martin sells her performance, though, is in her confusion and desperation, her voice crying out in longing as she clings to baby booties she had just torn from her purse moments before.

R. Keith Brumley's set design for the opera Flight, which depicts a darkened airport terminal with lightning flashing outside its windows as passengers sleep

It can be said that there is an eleventh character as well: R. Keith Brumley's set design that mimics the coldly spartan architecture of a modern airport, its towering walls and windows, its barely visible entrances showing audiences that the characters are as spatially trapped as they may feel in their endless night of cancellation. A screen beyond the windows projects pouring rain, terrifying lightning, and the warmness of a rising sun sets the mood for each scene without ever distracting from the action of the performance. In this regard, Brumley's set is aided by the lighting and projection design of Barry Steele.

Before the opening night performance, Mr. Villaume appeared onstage to decry to violence that has taken place in Ukraine at the hands of the Russian army. As of this writing, over one million Ukrainians have fled the country as refugees into Poland and other neighboring nations. New tales of horror unfold on our phones daily, if not hourly. Villaume told audiences that it didn't feel right to go on creating art as though nothing was happening, especially art that deals with the human condition, especially of those who have no home to call their own. The applause that followed his brief speech indicated that many agreed with him, that art is only an escape insofar as it allows us to escape into ourselves and one another. The Dallas Opera's production of Flight provides just such a journey, one that like the best vacations is exciting, enjoyable, and--most importantly of all--a chance for us to better understand the world and communities in which we live.

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From This Author - Zac Thriffiley

Zac Thriffiley is currently a PhD student in English researching American literature and culture. Over the years, Zac has been heavily involved in the arts communities of wherever he has lived. He has... Zac Thriffiley">(read more about this author)


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