Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Be So Patronising

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Be So Patronising

Article excerpt

The idea of the airport as metaphor for modern life, or as modern metaphor for life, is an obvious one, and none the worse for that. For anyone who sees life in terms of a pilgrimage, the airport is either the equivalent of hell, for those who feel that they are never going to get anywhere; or of purgatory, for those who feel that once they get under way things are bound to improve, since nothing can be worse than a delay in a departure lounge. Anxiety, excitement, escape, boredom, heartbreak -though they are ubiquitous, the airport seems the specific appropriate location for them now, and with more likely glamour than the average shopping mall, which will no doubt serve its turn as a setting for an opera about lethargy, lust and consumerist avarice.

So there is nothing remarkable in Jonathan Dove and his librettist April de Angelis deciding to set their Glyndebourne commission in a terminal, though an atypically undercrowded one. Choose a representative cross-section of people: a Refugee without an entry visa; a young married pair hoping to revivify their relationship through a package holiday; an Older Woman vainly waiting for the arrival of her Spanish Romeo; a married couple from Minsk, she heavily pregnant, refusing to board the flight; a Steward and Stewardess, parodies of smiling bossiness and randiness; a feared Immigration Officer, who turns out to be a good sort; and presiding over all a sexy black female Controller, emitting stratospheric messages. Put them together and the plot writes itself, even if it pays the price of being indistinguishable from quite a few previously composed novels and films. Ending with the delayed departure of the flight, with a back projection of the runway and then of clouds, as the main characters, except for the Refugee, confront the future, the opera can give a sense of expectancy and literal uplift as the curtain descends.

If it all sounds a bit trite, that is largely true. At least, in contrast to many opera libretti, it is clear and plausible. The function of music in this context is to give a depth to figures who would otherwise seem cardboard, and a breadth to suggest resonances with the world elsewhere. Jonathan Dove's music, likeable and resourceful as it is, does serve only to reinforce the impression of ordinariness. The naming of the characters, apart from the married pair Bill and Tina, merely by their function in the action, as Steward or whatever, is duplicated in the score by a lack of development which undermines the primary idea of an airport where people are going somewhere, or hoping to. …

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