When I saw Brian Current’s Airline Icarus this summer in a staged version by Tim Albery I thoroughly enjoyed it but had this nagging feeling I wasn’t completely getting it. First time through with the CD I had the same reaction. It was only when I printed out Anton Piatiogorsky’s libretto and listened with that in front of me that I began to feel I was finally understanding this somewhat enigmatic work. I realized it’s a structural thing. The first two parts of the piece are essentially realistic. It’s a black comedy involving a sort of anti-love triangle between a businessman (Geoff Sirett), a flight attendant (Krisztina Szabó) and a businesswoman (Carla Huhtanen) played out along with the terror of an academic (Graham Thomson) flying, ironically, to Cleveland to deliver a paper on the Fall of Icarus. It’s inventive and funny but then something happens. It’s very ambiguous but Current’s notes tell us that it’s inspired by the 12 -15 minutes between KAL007 being hit in the wing by a Soviet missile over Sakhalin in 1983 and its eventual destruction. The mood changes with a nervy ensemble piece about hubris and technology followed by an ecstatic aria from the pilot (Alexander Dobson) before a deceptive return to “normality” and fade out. It’s quite disturbing in its lack of resolution.
The music is very Brian Current. There’s a mix of consonance and dissonance, a driving energy and almost manic rhythmic invention as time signature succeeds time signature at very short intervals. Like the plot, it disturbs without ever really coming to resolution. The cast on the CD features many of the singers who brought the work to life in various workshop and concert performances before it ever hit an opera stage; which seems to be par for the course with contemporary opera (unless one is Rufus Wainwright). They are among Toronto’s leading exponents of such music and are uniformly strong. The chamber ensemble and small chorus also perform perfectly well. It’s conducted by Brian Current himself who is highly skilled in interpreting his own music and that of his contemporaries so this is likely a definitive performance.
So, Airline Icarus is an inventive and disturbing wok that comes in well under an hour and is available on a well recorded budget Naxos CD. Definitely worth a listen for any follower of contemporary opera.