photo: Dominica Eriksend

ONE-ELEVEN HEAVY is a short opera that explores the relationship of humans to air travel – the abandonment of control over our destiny in favor of technological advances – and, through the tragedy of the 1998 Swissair Flight 111 disaster in Halifax, Canada, the sometimes horrific consequences.


Flight 111 suffered an on-flight fire and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, claiming the lives of all 229 passengers and crew.  The libretto is culled from recollections of reporters on the scene of the crash, interviews with family members of the passengers and crew, and newspaper accounts of the incident, as well as descriptions of plane crashes from survivors of other disasters.  Told in reverse chronology, the voices of these characters are woven into a narrative that recounts who was on the ill-fated flight, explores what they might have experienced, and gives insight into the physical and emotional aftermath of the tragedy.


The addition of the original Air Traffic Control recordings and use of authentic McDonnell Douglas MD-11 aircraft alarms allows the listener to experience the unfolding of events in real time in counterpoint to the operatic narrative of the music.



I have an idea of what it might have been like aboard Swissair 111; an American Airlines jet I was on in 2013 lost an engine mid-flight en route to New York from Austin.  We were told we were over Indiana somewhere and would be making an emergency landing.  We were shown how to brace for landing and find the closest emergency exit.  The cabin went silent; what can you do? What is there to do?


When I later came across the story of Swissair Flight 111, I knew what had to have been on the minds of the passengers in the final minutes.  It’s a scary-calm-panic feeling, all of that at once, and all of it dominated by an overwhelming feeling of complete helplessness.  I walked off of that American flight unharmed, but the Swissair passengers never got to tell their story.  For them I wrote ONE-ELEVEN HEAVY.



Thanks to: Janice Jackson and the 2014 Opera From Scratch staff and participants for their support, and especially to Karianne Pasma for whom the original was written; Leaha Villarreal and Mary Kouyoumdjian for believing in my vision and helping me make it come true; David Bloom for being the utmost professional at his work; John Davis and The Bunker Studio for being a dream to work with; Nathan Chang and the staff of Halleloo for beautifully documenting the process; Erin Clancy for her incredible artwork; and Molly Herron for always being an extra set of hands (and ears). — Matt Frey


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