Brian Current’s chamber opera Airline Icarus is finally available on CD, and it sounds even better than I remember it. (I have reviewed the staged version directed by Tim Albery earlier on this blog.) It is best enjoyed while following the libretto by Anton Piatigorsky, which for some inexplicable reason was not included in the CD booklet. You will have to go to the Soundstreams website and download the PDF file, but it is worth the trouble. The text is even smarter than I managed to gather during live performance, the music more complex, more expressive and more emotionally wrenching. The interplay and the responsiveness between the words and the text are just about flawless.
When this CD arrived in the mail, I rushed to play the most obviously stand-alone segment, the Pilot Aria, characterized by an urgent danceable rhythm and a powerful declarative text. After carefully listening to the whole work again, it was clear to me that most of the segments can be enjoyed on their own even if it is a composed-through opera; the ensembles like the “Icarus, where are you?” just before the Pilot Aria, or the piece sung by the Scholar and the Voices “Time to take off–breathe” are veritable choral bonsais—not large in the number of musicians or length, but (if we stop and listen closely) in intricacy. Further, each of the individual characters in the drama is given a miniature solo psychological portrait alongside a few exchanges with other characters, and no line of music or text is used in vein. The characters are portrayed in a few strokes, but those reveal the key traits of their personalities.
So I recommend listening to the CD as you would a favourite pop or jazz album: in bits, repeatedly, idiosyncratically, irreverently, sometimes while doing other stuff, sometimes for dancing around the house, other times in search of social criticism of the technological hubris and the late capitalist citizen loneliness. Occasionally a contemporary music piece captures some of what it feels like to be alive in our age so well that it’s easy to adopt it as part of the everyday life. Airline Icarus is familiar and strange, both. It does feel like the flying experience put to music, and its philosophical and political implications put to music too.