During the Greek progression from Myth to Reason -- that most delicate process, almost a Titanomachy, OK let's splurge, almost a Τιτανομαχία that, among other things, gave birth to Philosophy, the Law and a bunch of other things that eventually bore you to death in college, and cue here, among so many others, Jean-Pierre Vernant's amazing work on these matters -- something may have been lost, maybe just a little, during this long process. And it is the ancient sense of, for the lack of a better word, Wonder. (Mankind recently regained it thanks to videogames, but this is either the topic of another post or a future PhD dissertation by OC, so stay tuned).
Therefore may the ancient deities bless John Adams and Peter Sellars, that apparently mismatched duo of big nerds who have created with "A Flowering Tree" what appears to be one of the most important works of their career -- and certainly the most purely beautiful.
It's fitting that almost one year ago, OC was last in New York City's intimate Rose Theater for the 2008 Mostly Mozart Festival's production of Kaija Saariaho’s "La Passion de Simone", directed by Sellars and starring Dawn Upshaw. That spirit remained, and OC was back in the same house for another modern work with very similar and haunting undertones.
For all the pitfalls he sometimes gleefully dives into, just for the hell of it probably, Opera Chic loves Peter Sellars, that impish Puck of a man full of larger-than-life ideas (Cosi' fan Tutte in a diner, Le Nozze in the Trump Towers). Maybe John Adams's 21st century opera, "A Flowering Tree", didn't eventually need any of Sellar's gorgeous or perfect ideas to stand on its own. Because musically it's an impressively solid work, and it doesn't matter how much the purists might find it too "simple" (as if simplicity weren't the fundamental ingredient of most if not all ancient art). Sellars, as Adams's frequent partner-in-crime, this time found an Adams opera that is full of such lush expression and brilliant, visual passages which effortlessly weave an unmistakable narrative, that he didn't really need to overplay his hand. And, bless him, he didn't.
“Do not move / Let the wind speak / that is paradise", in the heavenly words of that crazy Jew-hating giant, Ezra Pound, the wretched twentieth century's wretched, greatest poet. That's what Sellars did -- he let the wind speak. He left his trusty sledgehammer (see: Doctor Atomic) home for once and didn't overplay his hand.
Since its inception in 2006 after being earlier commissioned by New Crowned Hope Festival (to ring in the 250th birth year of Mozart), Adams's "A Flowering Tree" has buzzed its way around the world through Berlin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London. Now New York City is hosting the much anticipated opera, which made its Big Apple premiere this past Thursday night, in Opera Chic's presence, in the acoustically-superb Rose Theater for the 2009 Mostly Mozart Festival. Its part of the MMF, as Adams' opera is aligned with the same major themes as Wolfgang's last opera, Die Zauberflöte, dealing similarly with dark arts, transformations, trials by fire, and moral awareness.
With the libretto by John Adams and Peter Sellars the story is based on an ancient, Indian folktale, full of transformations, mythological allusions, and heartbreaking morality. Compact and perfectly balanced, "A Flowering Tree" calls for Lyric soprano, tenor, baritone. The orchestra: picc, 2 fl, 2 ob (2=Eng hrn), soprano recorder, alto recorder, 2 clar, bass cl, bsn, contrbsn (=bsn); 4 hrn, 2 tpt, timpani, 2 percussion, harp, celesta and strings. There is also a corps of shadow figures, silent dancers who mime action and reenact the fable-driven narrative with gorgeous dance and pantomime.
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