Friday, March 02, 2007
A Flowering Tree
The United States premiere of a new opera/oratorio, "A Flowering Tree," by local composer John Adams was performed by the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday night, with the composer himself conducting.
It was exciting being part of the premiere since this music, some of Adams' best, will probably live forever.
As the conductor Mary Chun stated, "this is prime Middle Period Adams. I can't wait to hear what he does next."
The sound of the piece is similar to Adams' Christmas oratorio, "El Nino," with three vocal soloists joined by a large chorus and orchestra. However, "A Flowering Tree" is less disjointed than "El Nino," and overall a much gentler, smoother piece of music.
The opera started as a commission for "A New Crowned Hope" music festival in Vienna last year celebrating Mozart's 250th that was being led by the librettist and director of "A Flowering Tree," Peter Sellars.
It was initially supposed to last under an hour, but the opera kept growing and ended up being about two-and-a-half hours long with one intermission.
The story is from an old East Indian fable about a poor girl who can transform herself into a magical, perfumed tree and back into a human. A spoiled prince falls in love with her, marries her, loses her, goes mad when she gets stuck in mid-transformation and disappears, and finally heals her with love.
The critics in Vienna hated "A Flowering Tree" for its ultra hippy-dippy, multi-culti, California melding of cultures (there are choruses in Spanish and Indonesian dancers doubling the singers), but I'm here to say that it's one of the most exquisitely beautiful pieces of music Adams has ever written, and that's saying something.
The only fly in last night's ointment was the fact that the starting time was moved from 8:00 PM to 7:30 PM, the unofficial reason being that there were parties for donors scheduled for every evening after the performances with the composer, who just turned 60 on February 15th. This led to an army of latecomers clomping in during the "Flores, flores!" chorus which was fairly annoying. Otherwise, it was just about a perfect evening. Happy birthday, John Adams. I can't wait for your Late Period.