19 June 2015

Flight at Opera Holland Park was astonishingly good in all departments

Opera is not my favourite art form, I would rather go to the theatre, see some dance or wander a gallery of modern art, but it is high enough up my list for me to go to it probably once a month or so, though most of that is clustered around the Summer festivals of Glyndebourne, Tete-a-Tete and Grimeborn. So it was something of a surprise that I had not been to Opera Holland Park before. I was aware of it and had momentarily considered going to it but had never got further that that.

Opera Holland Park were also reluctant to tell me much about what they were up to (mostly because I had not asked) and so they disappeared under the radar. Then Twitter came to the rescue, as it often does.

The good people at Tete-a-Tete tweeted that they were off to see the opening performance of Flight and that made me squeal. I had seen Flight twice before, at Glyndebourne in 1999 and 2005, and was keen to see it again. I leaped on my PC and had a look at Opera Holland Park, starting with the basic stuff like where is was.

There were only a few performances of Flight scheduled and I could only make one of them, so that was an easy choice. The ticket prices were a lot lower than Glyndebourne's and the top price was only £60 so that was an easy choice too.

The harder choices were what to wear, how to get there and what to eat first.

I spoke to a cultured and refined lady that I know at a BCSA event and she assured me that there was no dress code and that she had seen people there in t-shirts. I chose to wear a bow-tie though I was not brave enough to wear it all day so I took it with me and changed after work. It does not seem that long ago that I used to wear a bow-tie to work most days, and I have a lot of them, but fashions change and what was once unusual but acceptable now gets you stared at by the public and watched closely by the police.

Opera Holland Park is, understandably, in Holland Park which has its own tube station on the Central Line but the District Line was a lot more convenient for me so I headed for High Street Kensington which left me with a comfortable walk of under ten minutes to the opera which was situated towards the southern end of the park, just above the cricket pitch.

On a recommendation I ate in the food hall in Whole Foods Market which was less impressive than I hoped. The opening made-to-order fruit juice was good but I struggled to find some easy vegetarian food, multiple-choices are the enemy of a person in a hurry, and in the end I settled for the unbelievably boring choice of two slices of pizza. It was food.

Opera Holland Park tried to copy something of the Glyndebourne experience. I queued for a Pimms and eventually got a glass that was mostly full of ice.

The opera house itself was a large tent with temporary seating. It looked fairly basic but it was comfortable enough and I had a good view.

The shape was slightly unusual in that it was much wider than most stages. This may have been to accommodate the orchestra but had the lucky consequence of being ideal for Flight because that was set in a spacious airport departure lounge and had clusters of people spread across it.

The story was framed by that of the refugee (the part played by Tom Hanks in the film The Terminal) who was trapped in the airport. At the end of the story we found out why and this involved a stowaway falling to his death as the plane he was on came in to land, something which had happened (again) at Heathrow just a few days previously.

The middle of the opera was filled with the stories of other passengers like the middle-aged couple going on holiday to try and rekindle a cold marriage, an older woman there to meet her much younger "fiancé" who she had met on holiday and who had promised to come for her, and a diplomat and his pregnant wife heading off to a prestigious new assignment in Minsk. And then there were the stewards who were more interested in having sex with each other than anything else.

A storm confined them all to the terminal  building for far longer than expected and  this created lots of space  for their stories to develop. The directions they went were often tender, sometimes sad, occasionally funny and always interesting. More importantly they were all sung wonderfully.

The music matched these moods beautifully and tripped along in a fresh modern style that had an English Romantic feel to it, more Grainger than Glass.

There was an interval. Getting a drink looked too hard again and the ice cream required something of a walk but that was better than queueing so I had an ice cream. I also grabbed a quick hello with a lady I recognised from various evening  as Tete-a-Tete and during our quick exchange I was pleasantly shocked to learn that she had been involved in the original production of Flight at Glyndebourne. Something I will want to find out more about when we next meet at an opera.

That chance meeting was a cherry on the top of a very delightful, rich and fruity cake. Flight was an astonishingly good opera in all departments and was an excellent example of what the form can do. Having seen it three times now I want to see it again.

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