Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Opera) Airline Icarus

Going Down
by Jason Booker
Spoiler alert: Airline Icarus does not feature a happy ending. That may not surprise you though, if you recall the myth of Icarus. He crafted wax wings to strap on his back in order to fly. After getting too close to the sun, the wings melted and the Greek lad fell back to Earth.
Taking that as a premise, Airline Icarus then tries to crawl inside the mind of three passengers as their plane goes down. Well, three passengers, some crew and a mysterious chorus who are clearly metaphorical but not specifically defined.
Full of dissonance and percussion, the modern opera features an effective, if not exceptional, score by Brian Current and a skillful, if shallow, libretto by Anton Piatigorsky. Sadly, the score is not particularly melodic or repetitive enough to stay in the ear and the witty characters often feel sketched instead of finely drawn – especially the women – evidenced by none of the characters having names, just occupations.

The comic stylings of Krisztina Szabó as the lovelorn Flight Attendant perk up many scenes but never reveal any backstory. Vania Chan as Ad Executive feels underutilized and stereotyped as the antisocial depressed passenger. The alcoholic Business Man (Geoffrey Sirett) sang beautifully of his obsessive loneliness while the neurotic Scholar of Graham Thomson prattled on. Clearly unrequited love and compulsive and immediate attraction are on the menu here. Alexander Dobson rounds out the cast with his bookended solos – akin to a narrator – portraying Worker (loading bags onto the plane) and Pilot.
Tim Albery directs the hour long show with finesse, employing the usual fold-out stadium seating as the playing space for this jetliner. The chorus of six and the cast of five do manage to fill the vast space to indicate the crowdedness of the plane, the vastness of the sky and the unending repetition in industrial design. Cleverly, props and costumes materialize as needed – including a furious final sequence where everything gets tossed about as the plane descends. Set designer Teresa Przybylski creates two striking slashes of metal at the rear of the seating unit, raised to nearly the rafters, so that the cast can climb aboard – and the orchestra can be tucked in behind. Thanks to lighting designer Kimberly Purtell, the set realistically shimmers.
Ambitious in scope and gorgeous for the eye, Airline Icarus doesn’t work as well for the ear or the mind. Similar to how the tale of Icarus went too: not quite successfully. But the scenery sure is worth humming.

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