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Flight review at Theatre Royal, Glasgow – ‘unfailingly clever’

The cast of Scottish Opera's Flight. Photo: James Glossop The cast of Scottish Opera's Flight. Photo: James Glossop
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When Jonathan Dove’s first full-scale stage work was premiered by Glyndebourne Touring Opera back in 1998, it would have been impossible to predict its subsequent worldwide success: currently heading towards 130 performances in nearly 30 productions, the result is clearly one of the most frequently performed British operas of recent decades.

Dove and his librettist April De Angelis deserve congratulations, too, for choosing a contemporary subject and attempting something broadly comic – though not without serious moments and a socially responsible underlying theme.

The location is a modern airport, the central character a refugee for whom it has become home – a character based on the plight of the Iranian Mehran Karimi Nasseri, whose domicile was Terminal One of Charles de Gaulle airport between 1988 and 2006: his story has been much written about and variously adapted, including in Steven Spielberg’s 2004 movie, The Terminal.

These are the pluses. On the minus side, the piece could do with a stronger score, and certainly one less stylistically reliant on other composers, notably John Adams; Dove’s own musical identity tends to disappear for long, musically anonymous stretches. The drama, too, feels over extended, particularly in the last two of the three acts.

But Stephen Barlow’s production, brilliantly designed by Andrew Riley and with lighting by Richard Howell – their electrical storm in Act II is an absolute visual triumph – is unfailingly clever and manages to paper over some inherent cracks, while all the principal roles are skilfully done and fit perfectly into a strong ensemble.

Rising countertenor star James Laing makes consistently beautiful sounds as he conveys the quiet despair of the central character, with soprano Jennifer France hitting the vocal heights as the stratospherically inclined Controller.

Scottish Opera’s music director Stuart Stratford conducts a consistently secure, regularly dynamic performance.

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Stephen Barlow’s unfailingly clever staging of Jonathan Dove’s musically derivative airport opera