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Adams: A Flowering Tree to be premiered in Vienna

(November 2006)

Adams: A Flowering Tree to be premiered in Vienna

The latest collaboration between John Adams and Peter Sellars, A Flowering Tree, is premiered at the Vienna Festival on 14 November, forming a centrepiece to the New Crowned Hope festival celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. The opera will then travel onwards for performances in Berlin, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam and New York. As with his nativity drama El Niño, it is intended that A Flowering Tree will co-exist as a stage and concert work.

Picking up the Mozart theme, the new opera has parallels with The Magic Flute through its adaptation of a folk tale, here from Southern India, describing a young couple undergoing rituals and trials to discover the transfiguring power of love. Adams sets the tale simply, with a small cast of three singers and chorus, conjuring the magical atmosphere with an orchestra including recorders, harp and celesta, not least in the scenes where the heroine of the tale transforms herself into the flowering tree.

In the 2000-year-old South Indian folk tale A Flowering Tree, a beautiful girl named Kumudha devises a plan to help her impoverished family: she transforms herself into a tree, from which she and her sister gather the fragrant flowers, weave them into garlands, and sell them at the marketplace. They carefully perform the ritual, which requires two pitchers of water for Kumudha to turn into the tree, and two pitchers of water for her to turn back into human form. The local prince spies on her and wants her for his wife. After their wedding, the prince commands Kumudha to perform the transformation for him. She complies, but his sister watches from a hiding place and, envious of her sister-in-law’s powers, forces Kumudha to perform the ritual for her and a group of her friends. After Kumudha turns into a tree, they break her branches, tear off her flowers, and abandon her, neglecting the water ritual which would revert her back into human shape. Trapped in a netherworld, not quite tree, not quite human, Kumudha is eventually rescued by a band of minstrels, who incorporate her into their travelling act because she can sing exquisitely. Meanwhile the prince, distraught at his wife’s disappearance, wanders through the country as a beggar. After a long time he ends up at his sister’s palace (she has since become a queen). Barely recognizing him, she takes him in. When she hears about a travelling minstrel troupe and a strange tree-woman with a heavenly voice, she summons the broken hybrid to the palace, in hopes it will help the prince. At once the prince recognizes his wife’s voice, and with pitchers of water restores her to her human self.
Synopsis © Sarah Cahill

John Adams’s earlier operatic collaborations with Peter Sellars continue to travel widely. In recent years Nixon in China has enjoyed major revivals in Chicago and London, The Death of Klinghoffer has been staged in Prague, Helsinki, Rotterdam and at the Edinburgh Festival and adapted into a prize-winning film, and Doctor Atomic receives its European premiere at the Holland Festival next June.

David Robertson conducts first performances of the new Doctor Atomic Symphony in 2007. This 25-minute reworking of orchestral music from the opera draws upon the Overture, Oppenheimer’s Baudelaire soliloquy, the electrical storm music, Batter my heart, and the culminating Countdown music.

A Flowering Tree (2006)

Opera in two acts
Libretto by John Adams and Peter Sellars adapted from the ancient Indian folktale and poetry in translations by Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan

Commissioned by New Crowned Hope (Vienna), San Francisco Symphony, Barbican Centre (London), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York) and the Berliner Philharmoniker

14/16/17/19 November 2006
Vienna Festival
Orquesta Simón Bolívar and Schola Cantorum
of Caracas/Adams

21/22 December 2006 (concert)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle

1/2/3 March 2007 (concert)
San Francisco Symphony/Adams

10/12 August 2007
Barbican, London
Orquesta Simón Bolívar and Schola Cantorum of Caracas/Adams

24 May 2008
ZaterdagMatinée, Amsterdam (concert)
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland/Adams

Lincoln Center, New York

> Further information on Work: A Flowering Tree

Photo: Set Model for premiere of A Flowering Tree at New Crowned Hope festival in Vienna

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