The High Life

—Olson-Larsen Galleries presents dsmArts—

Above: Amazing countertenor John Holiday will be in concert Sunday and in a local opera this summer.

By Michael Morain

This summer, the jet-setting countertenor John Holiday will make his Des Moines Metro Opera debut in a show called “Flight,” about an Iranian refugee who lost his passport and was stranded at the Paris airport for 18 years, from 1988 to 2006. It’s based on the same true story that inspired “The Terminal,” the 2004 movie starring Tom Hanks.

Meanwhile, the singer has a few other trips in the works. He’ll come to Des Moines on Sunday, April 8, for a concert at Plymouth Church, where he’ll sing a bit of Handel, a bit of jazz, and bit of everything in between. Later this spring he’ll perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at its home base at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and then in Paris, where, between concerts, he plans to track down that Iranian refugee.

As far as Holiday knows, Mehran Karimi Nasseri is living in a shelter somewhere in the French capital. “It’s really important to let him know his story has taken off in the United States and abroad,” the singer said over the phone from his home in Wisconsin. “It would be awesome if he could see [the opera].”

It’s a “very moving” story, he said. In the first act, all of the characters except the refugee and a few airport employees are on their way to far-flung destinations. In the second act, when a storm grounds all the planes, the travelers learn how it feels to be stuck like the refugee, to rely on strangers for food and companionship, to build a sense of community — if only for a short time.

The 1998 libretto and score by April de Angelis and Jonathan Dove, respectively, work together to paint images out of music and words, Holiday said. They also make the most of his stratospheric range.

He sang a line to show what he meant, swooping up at the end of the phrase: “Planes up in the sky, ah-ah-AAAAAH!”

As it turns out, he had already set his sights high even before he started preparing this role. He’s a big fan of an online flight simulator called PilotEdge and got to co-pilot a real plane, a single-engine Cessna Skylane, during a stint last summer at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in upstate New York.

The main pilot was impressed with how Holiday could steer the plane and talk with the control tower at the same time.

“He said, ‘Wow, you really do fly a lot,’ ” the singer said. “It was so much fun.”

John Holiday’s solo concert starts at 7 p.m. Sunday at Plymouth Church, 4126 Ingersoll Ave. $25 for adults, free for students; Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of “Flight” opens June 30.

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