Back from Iowa and I wanted to get this review off (if out of order) and the penultimate performance of this magnificent production is tonight and if you can get to Indianola, Iowa, GO! I have heard some of the music from Jonathan Dove's masterpiece, but this production indeed brings new life to the work under the direction of Kristine McIntyre with this truly spectacular cast!
Sets-R. Keith Brumley
Tina- Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez
Older woman-Deanne Meek
Immigration officer-Zachary James
The 467 seats in the theater were indeed all taken and we observed the wondrous, almost magical, set on arrival. As always, the rectangular opening to the orchestra pit was at the center of the thrust semi-circle stage, but today we had a staircase descending down in front of it. Black leather and chrome seats(the group of four seats) you see in so many airports, were left and right of the pit facing outward, and two more left and right towards the back facing us At the rear center was a circular staircase going up a cylindrical structure to the Controller's curved desk with microphone at the top; a door opened out of the curved glass wall onto a terrace. Left and right of the stage were two LED screens with TRI STAR AIRLINES logo and arrivals data on them. Outside the huge glass curved wall on the right was a very clearly 2-D Tri-Star Airlines jet. There were doorways left and right of the staircase and a large trunk below it.
Before the music began the flight attendants came out in matching blue 1980's-90's uniforms to announce various and sundry things which were quite funny such as "your seat bottom cannot be used as a flotation device." Our Refugee begins the music with "Look up there..." and is dressed in baggy khaki pants, a loose tan jacket and worn woven shoes. As the meltingly lyrical notes take off, the 1/2 foot high plexiglass-ish wall around the curved stage edge lights up white from within (various colors are used here throughout the opera), the Controller enters in an airline-themed woman's business suit singing "This is the best time; no people" and the two alone in the terminal early in the day seem to have some sort of connection. Her aria offers up some awesome high notes, as only Ms. Luna indeed can sing so well: "I have the sky" with a magnificently floated and held high F(?).
Tina & Bill, a couple trying to reignite their relationship with a vacation, enter in the wildest beachy outfits. He is in Hawaiian shirt, shorts, sandals, straw hat with fake flowers and carries a blow-up pool toy of an animal and she carries a stuffed donkey while dressed in a long loose beach overdress and shows her shell bikini to him. They both had red roll-on luggage and while they sing of reconciliation, it is clear they are fearful of it not happening. The Refugee asks for money and tells them they will succeed. The Controller intones "Luggage left alone unloaded, will be immediately exploded," setting the tone even more that while this work is serious, it is full of many funny moments.
The Older woman enters in very baggy silky paisley pants, a blue top and white loose flowery jacket with a huge modern necklace. She is waiting at the gate for her fiance (this was written in 1998 and hence pre-911 rules were not in effect that barred folkls from going to the gate). When the Refugee asks her for food, she pretends to be foreign "Fromage, Café, Veuve Cliquot" and brushes him off. The stewardstake to comforting her as they feel each other up and the Refugee sends them to a place they can be alone in the airport.
The Controller, quite disgusted with their behavior sings "Down you go," but before you know it the stewards return from their assignation buttoning up their clothes.
The Controller looks at the Refugee and sings "I like him to stare at me and adore..." leading us to believe more than what we see?
The Minskman & Minskwoman enter, he in a business suit with briefcase, she hauling duty free bags in a simple black dress clearly very pregnant. We are told that she is indeed 8 months pregnant and that they must go on his government assignment to Minsk, though she has trepidations. The man tells her everything will be fine in a beautiful baritone section "For you and me.." as they kiss and go to board the plane and all the onlookers applaud, but she emphatically says "NO" and he boards the plane while she stays. All watch as the 2-D plane pulls away. The orchestra crescendos to a tumultuous fortissimo, especially with the percussion, as the onlookers sing "Look the plane is moving now." Tina & Bill sing to the Minskwoman as the Older Woman wonders "Why didn't she go?"
The Refugee asks the Minskwoman for a hat or scarf and tells her everything will be alright as he hands he a small rounded stone.
Suddenly the Immigration Officer is approaching an the Refugee cries "Help me, hide me," while the others say "We can't help you!" There is a very wonderful Glassian/Adams minimalistic essence to Dove's music at time and here it repeats over and over "What can we do?" as the Refugee hides behind the trunk. The Immigration Officer goes off quickly and the stairway down in the front is covered by opaque cloudy white "glass" panels the move over it.
A sextet ensues "Soon our journeys will start..." while the stewards are making out again behind the check-in counter. At this point we are all in hysterics as Mr. Hoffman's steward is ah-ing all over with his orgasms while Ms. Selowski actually has hers and faints on the floor, while the Controller utters "disgusting."
An octet is next where the group has maracas, cocktail coconuts with paper umbrellas, fake leis and more. The conductor is spotted with a similar tacky straw hat and the group begins to limbo as the lights on the stage edge wall change colors. A string of paper pineapples pops down above the Controller's Desk and fruits and birds on the airline LED displays. As quickly as this all started, the skies start to darken outside and the terminal becomes darker as well as the Controller intones there is a "delay for how long we can't say; electrical storms coming our way." The Refugee tells them all "Now, just like me, you're stuck here" and pulls out more of his smooth stones to pass out as the act ends.
The Refugee contemplates a paper airplane as everyone else is either asleep or reading. The minimalist music repeats with the lightning flashes on accents in the music; I loved this! "The storm is getting worse" opens the second act and again the stewards are making out on the side "You've got identical eyes. You've got thighs," as Bill & Tina argue. He wants to sleep, but she is reading a sexual self-help book and tells him to be more sexually exciting. The Older Woman tells the Minskwoman about meeting her fiance in Mallorca and shows her a postcard that reads, "See you Wednesday" to which she retorts "which Wednesday," as her fiance says he is coming, but not which date. The Stewardess brings out a drink trolley and ultimately the four women take to drinking whisky (even the pregnant one!) The Steward offers a hot towel to Tina saying it is steaming as Bill accuses "you looked at him." Tina kicks her shoes to the Steward, pulls off her outer garment and the shell bikini is revealed as she uses the hot towel all the way up her thighs. Lighting flashes and she seems suddenly embarrassed by her actions so the Steward returns to the Stewardess and they head to sleep in blankets on the floor.
The Controller has gone out on the terrace with a white flowing scarf and has a beaut of a short aria, "Dirty demon night..." then comes in and lays down on the steps up to her desk. Ms. Quagliata has an amazingly maniacal moment as she takes all the baby things out of her carryon bag and throws them about in the most dramatic moment of mezzo angst "Whose bag is this...it's mine" as the others all moan in their sleep. The orchestration is massive and I felt that this was one of the most intense verismo moments in any opera I can recall. I have also now noticed that it is raining on the glass wall at the rear. The Controller sings to the Refugee "I hope you suffer" and he jolts up from his sleep and gives mores stones out. Tina & Bill want stones and they all get them in return for a promise to help him later when he is in need. The Minskwoman declares the stone "doesn't work" then all of a sudden feels something, but it passes.
The Refugee sings, "Now you've wished, now you owe me" and goes on to wish for his brother.
Bill approaches a blanket on the floor and propositions what he thinks is the Stewardess, but it is the Steward. The two go up to the Controller's desk as Bill sings "My name is Bill, I'm not predictable..." to repudiate his wife's accusations of being boring in bed. The four women are at the front right with the whisky bottle, as the men at the top sing, "We're so high up here." Bill asks what a blue button is and on a dare pushes it and there is a giant flash behind the desk. The Older Woman toasts to the Refugee's stone and they all pull out theirs calling the Refugee a traitor while he tells them "We don't need stones." The Controller is happy that the women have ganged up on the Refugee and there is a very quick escalation of the music into an almost unified cacophony, if that is possible. The women throw their stones at the Refugee and he passes out, while meanwhile on top, the two men have started to take their tops off still singing, "We're so high..." The women shove the Refugee's body into the trunk and as the men take off their undershirts and continue embracing everything crescendos to a huge climax and blackout!
The trunk is at the center rear as the third act commences with three women sitting on it and the Controller back at her desk door atop. The Steward & Bill are asleep in blankets below. A female quintet starts with amazing staccato from the women below as the Controller floats "the air is clear..." from above. It is magnificent soaring lyrical musical and then all of a sudden a huge plane noise interrupts and a plane's shadow is cast over the stage. The women put their shoes back on and the 2-D plane returns to the gate outside as the Older women intones "Will he come in spite of everything?" The Minskman runs off the plane and says he has returned to persuade his wife to go with him, "I missed you..." in a soaring baritone exposition on love. They embrace and she says she now wants to go with him, even if Minsk is awful.
Tina calls, "Let's go Bill, where are the cases?" and the Steward rolls them on but is wearing Bill's shorts as Bill drops his blanket to reveal the Steward's airline-logo embossed underpants. It was another hysterical moment as the quartet, "Explain" starts and Bill yells at Tina that she drove him to it and then exclaims, "it was fantastic, better than shells and elastic" referring to her bikini. She whacks him with the self-help book and he passes out as the women exclaim "not another one." The men look puzzled, but once again interruption occurs "What is it" with the Minskwoman going into labor, "It can't possibly be happening now." She is laid down at the rear with her head towards us as they prop her head on a small suitcase and all scream as the baby emerges. There is a gorgeous vocalise for the Minskwoman and they all sing, "How small....hot and wrinkled..." The Refugee sings "New wondrous, nothing so new as you" to the baby, while Bill & Tina all of a sudden are pretending to be strangers to re-enliven their relationship. The Steward is at the rear frowning as the Stewardess glares at him, clearly upset at his fling with Bill, but they apologize quickly from opposite sides of the stage. The Refugee holds the baby surrounded by the others and the Controller is on the stairs as the panels over the hole in the floor suddenly open. An elevator rises just several feet above the stage floor with the Immigration Officer on it with a small podium like semi-circular railing(think conductor's podium with curved rail)."I've been officially informed that you are not officially present" is his address to the Refugee who calls on the rest, "Help me you promised." The women declare they have to help him and the Minskman even attempts a bribe, then they all claim to be related to him, "Please Mr. Immigration, couldn't you review the situation." The Older Woman proposes, perhaps realizing that her fiance will never arrive as the Refugee explains to the officer that he is waiting for his brother. he is in a softly light spot as the others all freeze and are in darker light while the Controller comes down the steps. "Dawn, Still, Darkness" is the most remarkable part of this work and probably the most famous. The Refugee's aria was lovingly delivered by Mr. Holiday who had been singing for nearly 3 hours and waiting for this moment. We learn how he escaped his country by climbing into the wheel of a plane along with his twin brother. As the story emerges he sing of cold and the others all shiver and shake save for the officer who watches and is still. The Controller cringes and as the Refugee finishes his moving tale, the officer sings that " a frozen man falling like a star" was seen the day the Refugee arrived. The Controller takes the officer's hand and he says "You can stay here..." and I have to say we were all choked up and about to shed tears, when the action takes off again as the Controller announces "Fly to Minsk and places smarter..." from her desk and the lilting finale starts off as each traveller heads off to their destination: the Older Woman seeks a new love, the Minsk Couple head to his assignment, the stewards as "passing planes in the night," and Bill & Tina head to their hotel to rekindle their relationship. The Controller sings to the Refugee, "This is your home now," and he replies, "this is my home now," as the Minskwoamn returns to give the refugee her long black embroidered scarf. The 2-D plane moves off again as the Refugee sits on the trunk and waves and waves and waves "a frozen man falling like a frozen star..." He takes the stone from his pocket as he intones a luscious vocalise and lays it down on the trunk. The controller calls, "What are you thinking? Look at me." and the lights dim as they stare at each other.
I want to see this over and over and over as I totally relived it just now writing this. This cast is the best and everyone deserved the most amazing kudos it is a team project and it shows. I have been told by sources that this music is intensely difficult to sing and that the opera is a major workout, but to us in the audience, it seemed as if they all had it down pat and for us, these characters were reliving their stories. I have been moved by many works, both modern and older, but this indeed is one of the most memorable nights(afternoons) I have ever had at the opera. BRAVI BRAVI BRAVI!
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