* Notes *
Opera Parallèle has opened another near impeccable production with Jonathan Dove's Flight, which has a three performance run this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Featuring an ensemble of 10 vocalists, the cast, mostly alumni of the Merola Opera Program, is incredibly strong. The small orchestra of 29 musicians also played with precision and verve.
The piece, though based on the true story of Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri and his extended stay in the Charles de Gaulle airport, is both comedic and tragic. British playwright April de Angelis' narrative is taut and the most of characters are compellingly human, having very understandable emotions that come through the music. The Older Woman, played by San Francisco Conservatory of Music faculty member and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, is both very funny as she recounts her romance with a young man, yet beautifully vulnerable. As the heavily pregnant Minskwoman who refuses to board her airplane, mezzo Renée Rapier sings a gorgeous confessional aria about how much has changed and how she would like to be free again.
Dove's vocal writing is lyric and he deftly handles the ensembles, the overlapping conversations seem natural and flow together nicely. Duets between the bickering couple of Bill and Tina were especially great, as were the contrasting passionate Steward and Stewardess. Tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali (Bill) had a wonderful warmth and soprano Amina Edris (Tina) got to show off some fiery and hilarious coloratura when she became angry with him.
More otherworldly are the top billed characters of the Controller, sung here by soprano Nikki Einfeld, and the Refugee, countertenor Tai Oney. Einfeld spends most of her time up in a room by herself observing and commenting on the action from above. Her voice is clear and biting. Oney's vocal type lends itself to a certain mysticism, as the most defenseless person of the opera, he tries to charm others into helping him, telling them what they want to hear. Oney had a few hooty notes at the beginning, but really sounded lovely for the rest of the evening.
Maestra Nicole Paiement is nothing if not consistent, and again proved herself to be truly one of the best opera conductors in the Bay Area. The orchestra played Dove's music, which is clearly influenced by minimalism, with ease. The orchestra never seemed head of the singers, but also never sounded slack.
Director Brian Staufenbiel employs a wall of 15 square screens at the back of what looks like a typical airport lounge. The video projections develop the story in a literal way by showing airplanes or rain and also try to heighten certain more mysterious passages with abstraction, such as swirling purple smoke. There is much movement both with those on stage and in the projections, driving in the fact that we are in a space for transit, except for the hapless Refugee.
* Tattling *
The announcement to turn off cellular telephones and locate emergency exits before the performance sounded like something out of one would hear at an airport.