Chamber opera for five soloists, chamber chorus, nine musicians and soundfiles
Music by Brian Current
Libretto by Anton Piatigorsky
About the work
Airline Icarus is about the intersecting thoughts of passengers aboard a commercial airplane. It explores themes of hubris mixed with technology, the forced intimacy of strangers and flying too close to the sun. Over the course of the work, the plane becomes brighter and eventually vanishes.
In September of 1983, a Korean commercial flight was shot down over the Soviet Union’s eastern coast. They said they thought it was a spy plane. Rather than hit the plane directly, the missile struck its wing, and the plane “fell like a leaf for an excruciating twelve to fifteen minutes”. I couldn’t help but to think about the people aboard for years after. Later when visiting with Anton Piatigorsky, I told him I was looking for ideas about theatrical works and mentioned the Korean airliner. Anton told me that he had just written a poem about the absurd little society we often take for granted aboard commercial flights and the unsettling mixture of hubris and technology: we’ll make small talk and watch movies while inches outside the window is a glorious cloudscape or freezing certain-death.
He later proposed the perfect metaphor for what we were trying to do: Icarus. Icarus, you’ll remember, flew too close to the sun and his wax wings melted and he fell to the earth in a blaze of light. His father, Daedalus, looked for him, crying: “Icarus, where are you!” and “Damn this art!”
To me, one of the most interesting parts of the myth is that Icarus disappears in much of the same way that people involved in airline tragedies disappear, and the way the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia disappeared in a blaze of light over Texas.
Daedalus’s cries of “Damn this art” are heartbreaking, not so much because Icarus has crashed and died, but more that he knows that we are doomed to keep building things—airplanes, computers, operas—in an endless cycle of trial and error that sometimes leads to disastrous consequences.
Like Daedalus, we might curse this sorry state, as does the terrified Scholar, or we can rejoice in the thrill of our power to create wonderful things, as sings the Pilot in his aria—No peace so great. No joy so pure —as soaring Icarus must have thought before the moment he disappeared.
From notes by Brian Current made at Yaddo colony, Saratoga Springs, NY in December 2003.
fl, cl, 2 perc. Pno, 5 solo voices (Sop, Mez, Ten, Bar. Bass-Bar), 2 vlns, vla, vlc, electronics
Date of composition:
Commission: Opera Breve Vancouver, Produced by Atelier Voca del Arte, Milan and Soundstreams, Toronto
Airline Icarus was commissioned in 2001 by Opera Breve Vancouver. Further workshops and excerpts were presented by Tapestry New Opera, Soundstreams, New York City Opera Vox Festival, Fort Worth New Frontiers and Opera America. In 2011, Airline Icarus was awarded the Italian Premio Fedora Award by a jury chaired by Louis Andriessen. It received a staged première in Verbania, Italy in April 2011 with the composer conducting. In November 2012 it was presented in concert at The Royal Conservatory in collaboration with Maniac Star, the rehearsals of which formed the basis of the present recording. Maniac Star and Soundstreams created the North American première in June of 2014, directed by Tim Albery.
Current’s depiction of turbulence is frighteningly realistic until an eerie stillness, beautifully performed by the instrumental ensemble, underscores the Pilot’s aria, providing an impression of suspended time and space. Superbly sung by Dobson, it ironically describes his joy of flying as the plane descends. The disturbing Epilogue closes the opera with a prolonged, final silence. - Dr. Réa Beaumont, The Whole note, 2014
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
Brian Current writes music that is brimming with energy – sometimes with the propulsive rhythms of so-called minimalist music, sometimes with a more delicate sense of flux, but almost always with a sense of motion and playfulness about the treatment of time and texture. These features have won him numerous honours, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Barlow Prize for Orchestral Music, and Italy’s Premio Fedora for his new chamber opera Airline Icarus.