On September 2, 1998, 229 passengers and crew members lost their lives when Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Nova Scotia. Composer Matt Frey, who identified with the Swissair tragedy due to his own brush with a plane malfunction, explores the human relationship to air travel while also commemorating the lives lost in the chamber opera ONE-ELEVEN HEAVY.
Using recollections from reporters on the scene, interviews with family members—including words from the pilot’s wife when she arrived on the scene—and even the original Air Traffic Control recordings from the crash, Frey depicts the story in four parts. Beginning with the ATC recordings, the voices of soprano Jenny Ribeiro and tenor Karim Sulayman rise to the surface, painting the image of the scene as the radio recordings describe it starting to happen. Filled with a sense of anxiety and coming undone, the text tells the story in reverse chronology. The opera builds to the point of no return where plane alarms can be heard and voices and instruments meet for a tumultuous climax. The album concludes with a chilling epilogue featuring ocean sounds and ATC recordings as those on the opposite end started coming to the realization that Swissair 111 had gone down.
“[T]he Swissair passengers never got to tell their story. For them, I wrote ONE-ELEVEN HEAVY.” Frey’s album achieves that and more, presenting an intellectual, emotional, and powerful opera that both commemorates the lives lost and adds to the rich catalog of the contemporary chamber opera.