Flight (opera)

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This article is about the Jonathan Dove opera. For other uses, see Flight (disambiguation).

Flight is an English opera in three acts, with music by Jonathan Dove and libretto by April De Angelis. The work was commissioned by Glyndebourne Opera and premiered on 24 September 1998 by Glyndebourne Touring Opera. After its large success, the work had its professional world premiere at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in a production by Richard Jones on their mainstage in 1999 [1] and was revived in August 2005.[2] The first US performance was at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis on 8 June 2003 in a production directed by Colin Graham.[3] Additional productions have been seen in The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium.[4] The first Australian presentation was of the Glyndebourne Opera production at the Adelaide Festival Theatre for the Adelaide Festival under the artistic direction of Brett Sheehy on 3 March 2006, which won Australia's 2006 Helpmann Award for Best Opera.[5]

De Angelis took part of the inspiration for the plot from the true-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, for several years, unable to exit the airport terminal.[6] (Some of the same real events surrounding Nasseri were later used in the story for the Steven Spielberg film The Terminal, independently conceived after the opera.)

Dove has also arranged music from Flight into an orchestral "Airport Scenes" for concert performances. This suite was first performed in Warwick in 2006.

British Youth Opera performed a fully staged version in September 2008.[citation needed] The U.S. West Coast premiere took place with a new production at the University of California, Los Angeles' Freud Playhouse in April 2010.[7] Austin Lyric Opera included Flight in its 2011 season.[8]

Opera Holland Park have announced its performance for their 2015 season.[9]


  • Refugee (countertenor)
  • Controller (soprano)
  • Tina (soprano)
  • Minskwoman (mezzo-soprano)
  • Stewardess (mezzo-soprano)
  • Older Woman (contralto)
  • Bill (tenor)
  • Steward (baritone)
  • Minskman (baritone)
  • Immigration Officer (bass-baritone)


The setting is the departure lounge of an unspecified airport. The opera takes place over the course of one full day and the following morning.

Act I has all of the characters en route somewhere, except for the Controller, the Refugee, and the Immigration Officer. The Refugee cannot leave the airport because he does not have a passport or other documents to allow him to enter the country legally. The Immigration Officer looks for the Refugee in order to arrest him. Married couple Bill and Tina are going on holiday to try to get their relationship out of its routine with the help of a sex manual. The Older Woman, appearing in disguise, has come to the terminal to wait for her "fiance"—a younger man that has promised to meet her. Minskman is a diplomat relocating for an assignment, and his wife, Minskwoman, is pregnant and on the brink of childbirth. The Stewardess and Steward, when not serving the customers, enjoy a vibrant physical relationship. At the last minute, Minskwoman is afraid to fly, and Minskman goes to his destination without his wife. The Flight Controller warns of approaching storms. The Older Woman's fiance has not arrived, and Bill and Tina prepare to depart. As Act I closes, all of the characters are suddenly delayed and stranded at the airport because of the inclement weather.

Act II takes place during the night, just after the storm has "gotten worse" and grounded all the planes. After all the characters have gone to sleep, Bill, in an attempt to break out of his "predictable" nature, makes a pass at the Stewardess, but is shocked to find the Steward instead. The two of them agree to venture up to the heights of the control tower. The Flight Controller grapples with the lack of planes and verbally assaults the storm outside her tower. The Refugee tries to insinuate himself with the various women and gives them (at various points throughout the act) each a "magic stone" that he says will cure their individual travails. The women toast their good fortune and drink with the Refugee. Eventually, as the storm builds, the drunk women realize that the Refugee has given them all the same "magic stone" and turn on him in a fit of rage, knocking him unconscious and concealing his body within a trunk. Up above in the tower, Bill and the Steward engage in an explorative sexual affair.

Act III takes place at dawn; the storm has cleared, every character reels from the events of the previous night. The controller announces the sudden arrival of a plane. Minskman has returned suddenly on the first available flight back, unable to continue without his wife at his side. When Tina learns of Bill's sexual encounter, she is enraged and angrily strikes him with the sex manual, knocking him unconscious as well. The Minskwoman suddenly goes into labor and delivers her baby in the terminal, just as the Refugee awakes from the trunk. The characters, with the insight of newborn life, reflect on the problems in their lives and offer forgiveness to each other for their wrongs. The Immigration Officer finally catches up with the Refugee. The other characters offer their help to persuade the Immigration Officer to "review the situation", though all attempts are unsuccessful. The Refugee then tells his story, which explains why he has no documentation. The Immigration Officer says that the Refugee cannot leave the terminal, but he decides otherwise to "turn a blind eye" to him and not to arrest him. Having done all they can do, Minskman and Minskwoman, with their new baby, fly to his new mission. Tina, taking the opportunity to start fresh with her husband Bill, go to their respective vacation destination. The Older Woman decides to venture out on a flight herself, and the Steward and Stewardess make amends, each working on their respective flights, ending the opera with a grand departure and one final enigmatic confrontation between the Controller and the Refugee.


One commercial recording exists of the opera,[10] on Chandos, recorded live from Glyndebourne Festival Opera, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Parry. The cast of singers is as follows:

  • Refugee – Christopher Robson
  • Controller – Claron McFadden
  • Bill – Richard Coxon
  • Tina – Mary Plazas
  • Older Woman – Nuala Willis
  • Stewardess – Ann Taylor
  • Steward – Garry Magee
  • Minskman – Steven Page
  • Minskwoman – Anne Mason
  • Immigration Officer – Richard Van Allan


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