Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What’s AMELIA About? Flight

Ever had a dream in which you could fly? Or were going to miss your flight, or were being chased around an airport, and if only you could get to the plane you could get away? Do you like the experience of flying, or hate it? The human race has been flying for about a hundred years, during which time we’ve used aircraft both to fly to the moon and to drop bombs all over this planet. Is flying good or bad?The plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima

Most people have strong feelings about flight, feelings of (dare I say) operatic intensity. When Daron Hagen first had the germ of the idea that became his opera, Amelia, he wanted to explore those feelings musically, to use flight as a metaphor for the human condition. Originally, he pitched Speight Jenkins of Seattle Opera on a non-linear opera about the history of flight, which was to include Daedalus and Icarus, and the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart, and Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.

From that original pitch, images of both the uplifting possibility of flight, and its potential tragedy, made it all the way into the finished opera. Amelia Earhart, after whom the opera’s title character was named, appears in the opera, not as an historical character, but as The Flier, a fantasy of the romance of flight, its adventure, its ability to reach out into the unknown. The opera’s protagonist dreams of what happened to Earhart—after the historical record gives out. In Act One, we see The Flier speaking to her navigator, the heavy drinker Fred Noonan, who was in fact in Earhart’s Lockheed Electra with her when she disappeared; and in Act Two, we find out what The Flier thinks of the place where she lands.
Amelia Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and the Electra plane in which they did not complete their circumnavigation of the globe.
Daedalus and Icarus, who (in Greek myth) escaped from the Cretan Labyrinth on wings made from feathers and wax, also appear in Amelia’s dreams. But they become real, later on in the opera, as The Father and The Son, whose family undergoes a tragedy counterpointing that of Amelia’s family. In the myth, young Icarus was so thrilled with the power and possibility of having wings, he soared too near the sun: the heat melted the wax that was holding his wings together, and he fell to his death.

We hope you'll join us on Saturday, April 10, at 2 pm, at the Museum of Flight (or on our livestream channel at the same time), for a panel discussion with Vietnam veterans who, like the character of Dodge in Amelia, flew in Vietnam.


  1. Hallo, SeaOp Blogsite Readers!!
    This is not a comment on the excellent explanation of "Amelia" to which I wish to attach it, but it may interest SeaOp fans that the last two Wagner operas I attended here in Germany recently were both conducted by SeaOp Maestri: "Siegfried" by Ascher Fisch in Dresden and "Rienzi" by Evan Rogister at the Deutsche Oper Berlin -- both very finely nuanced in dynamics and tempi (a real feast for the ears!! That bodes well for the coming Wagner productions in Seattle. Maybe we might even get a Rogister-conducted "Rienzi" in Seattle; the Berlin version cut the 5-hour original down to a very pithy 2-1/2 hours; visually, the many crowd scenes were extremely well-staged in Berlin by Philipp Stölzel!!
    Win H.
    Schwerin, Germany