Jonathan Dove's ''Flight" is not a great opera, but the Boston Lyric Opera's production is more entertaining than what many opera companies have bestowed on irrefutable masterpieces.
The deft libretto by April de Angelis is a drama of transformation, modeled on the romances of Shakespeare and perhaps the transformational operas of Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett. Most of the characters are stranded in an airport. All have problems and self-delusions; grounded, they slowly begin to reach out to each other through betrayals, reconciliations, magic, and simple human kindness. There is broad humor, pathos, an onstage birth, and a bit of spice -- some gamy sex and a hint of homosexuality.
Dove's music is theatrically vital and craftsmanlike; text-setting is expert and the complicated ensemble part-writing is assured. There are tunes. But the score is also often derivative, recalling models and inspirations in ways that are not always helpful.
Canny old pro Colin Graham, who has directed two of the Lyric's most successful productions, returned to revive and revise his American premiere production for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Eight of the 10 characters are onstage most of the time, and Graham maintains a fluent and focused motion, and makes the most of a resourceful cast of singing-actors. If the exciting flight sequences recall Peter Sellars's staging of John Adams's ''Nixon in China," so does the music.
Jerome Sirlin's set, dominated by a huge eagle, is stylized and colorful; so are the costumes by Jane Greenwood, although an omnivorously sexual flight attendant, a key comic figure, is trapped inside an unflattering violet uniform from within which even Brad Pitt could not project allure.
Mezzo soprano Mary Ann McCormick as a pregnant woman, countertenor David Walker as a refugee (modeled on the same man who inspired Steven Spielberg's ''The Terminal"), and contralto Myrna Paris as an Older Woman have the most meaningful roles, the ones that go farthest within, and they make the most of them. Walker's diction suffers from off-center vowels, but he is a good singer with a consistently alert and affecting presence. Paris maintains her dignity even when leading a conga line, and makes every word and gesture tell. McCormick casts a spell through operatic essentials -- a beautiful voice, expressively used.
The others are stock figures, but make a lively ensemble -- Brandon Jovanovich and Cynthia Watters as an itchy married couple; Angela Horn and Carleton Chambers as randy flight attendants; Thomas Barrett as the baby's father; and David M. Cushing as the Immigration Officer. Mary Wilson, the mysterious presiding Flight Controller, copes well with a high-flying vocal line. Conductor William Lumpkin is a reliable captain, piloting cast and hard-working orchestra to a smooth, safe landing.
At the end, the audience gave the performers, Graham, and the composer a standing ovation. There was bailout after the second act, however. It was unclear why people were leaving early -- was ''Flight" too racy? Too tame? Too long? Some of them were right.