SALT LAKE CITY — Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” was a commercial success. But six years before the film starring Tom Hanks, the story of a man who lived in the Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years became an opera called “Flight.”

On Tuesday, Utah Opera announced it will be performing Jonathan Dove and April De Angelis’ “Flight,” a contemporary opera inspired by Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri’s forced residence at the Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport from 1988 to 2006, as part of its 2020-21 season.

The company’s premiere of “Flight” runs Jan. 16-24, 2021, and continues Utah Opera’s trend of embracing contemporary opera — the past few seasons have seen productions of “Moby-Dick,” “The Little Prince” and “Silent Night.” 

Utah Opera’s premiere of “Flight” runs Jan. 16-24, 2021, at the Capitol Theatre. | Duane Tinley, Des Moines Opera

“We wouldn’t have ‘La Boheme’ or ‘Madame Butterfly’ — which was a disaster at its opening — if it hadn’t been a contemporary opera in and of its time. ‘Carmen’ was the same way, was a dismal failure at the box office when it first premiered,” Utah Opera artist director Christopher McBeth told the Deseret News. “If it had not been for composers, producers presenting what was then a modern and contemporary piece, we wouldn’t have these cherished pieces today. So that’s a big reason why we need to continue to not only present contemporary operas, but to continue to invest in creating contemporary operas for the future of the art form and our audiences.” 

“Flight” had its world premiere in 1998, but the comedic opera that explores what it means to be stranded has been called a modern-day “Marriage of Figaro,” according to a news release from Utah Opera. The company began working “Flight” into its 2020-21 season 18 months ago, McBeth said. 

“It’s a piece that’s completely new to our audiences. It is definitely a piece that at the moment feels like it has some resonance and relevance with where we are in our time in history,” McBeth said, adding that many opera companies throughout the country are working “Flight” into their seasons. 

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While McBeth said Utah Opera has had “tremendous success” in staging contemporary operas, he admitted that it can sometimes be a challenge to bring in audiences. 

“It’s always easier for us to buy a ticket to something that we know we’ve loved in the past than it is with a piece that has a great deal of unknown to it,” he said. 

Which is why two traditional operas are part of the 2020-21 season. Utah Opera’s upcoming season will open Oct. 10 with Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” from 1843 — a work McBeth, who calls himself a “dye-in-the wool Wagnerian,” is excited about. The production will mark German conductor Jun Markl’s Utah Opera debut. 

Utah Opera will also stage Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” for the seventh time in March 2021. One of the most popular and frequently performed operas in the world, “Tosca” was first performed by Utah Opera during the company’s first season in May 1978, according to a news release. Israeli director Omer Ben Seadia will direct the opera, which Utah Opera last performed in 2015. 

Utah Opera will perform “Tosca” for the seventh time during its 2020-21 season. | Kent Miles

Utah Opera’s 2020-21 season will conclude in May with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” McBeth said the production marks the company’s commitment to staging at least one family-friendly production each year.

“With over 400 years of repertoire, it’s not hard to find a bunch of exciting ideas to put together,” McBeth said. “Planning a season, that’s jut good fun.”

Season subscriptions for Utah Opera go on sale Tuesday, Feb. 4, at or 801-533-6683.  Single tickets go on sale to the general public June 9 through Utah Symphony/Utah Opera and ArtTix outlets.

Utah Opera’s 2020-21 schedule

  • Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” — Oct. 10-18
  • Jonathan Dove and April De Angelis’ “Flight” — Jan. 16, 24, 2021
  • Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” — March 13-21, 2021
  • Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” — May 8-16, 2021