Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

John Adams (http://www.earbox.com/index.html)
06 Mar 2007

Adams/Sellars “Tree” blossoms sublimely at SFS

Compared with Pamina and Tamino, Kumudha and her Prince, the central figures in “A Flowering Tree,” the John Adams and Peter Sellars collaboration given its American premiere on March 1 by the San Francisco Symphony, walk a rock-strewn road.

True, the young lovers of “The Magic Flute” sometimes emerge from realistic stagings of Mozart’s last opera dripping and singed around the edges, but their trials are nonetheless symbolic. And, furthermore, they follow the traditional pattern of boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl with the two living happily ever after.

Kumudha and her Prince — they come from a 2000-year-old South India folk tale — invert the process; they start out blissfully together, but their happiness is soon shattered by their imperfect world.

There is good reason to draw parallels between the two operas, for Sellars asked Adams to compose a score for Vienna’s 2006 New Crowned Hope Festival. Sellars, curator of the program, sought new works from a cross-section of artistic genres sparked by “a conversation with the luminous music of Mozart’s final year.”

(New Crowned Hope was the name of the Masonic lodge to which Mozart belonged in Vienna.)

Adams immediately chose “Magic Flute” as his point of departure, stressing, however, that “the connection is more one of spirit than of substance,” yet pointing out that “both operas share a central theme of youth, the evolution of moral consciousness, transformation — both physical and spiritual — and magic.”

And like the “Flute,” “Tree” too is essentially a fairy tale, which the Storyteller begins: “Children, I want to tell you a story.”

It is a story excitingly told through the intense interaction of text, music and dance that makes it a unique achievement of music theater.

Music theater?

Yes, for the collective concept avoids the question of whether “Tree” is actually an opera. Scholars will argue the point, stressing — after all — that the three San Francisco performances of the work were given by the Symphony in Davies Hall, not across the street in the War Memorial Opera House.

And, indeed, ‘Tree’ has something of an oratorio about it, with the Storyteller functioning much as does the Evangelist in the Passions of J. S. Bach.

But why worry about the label for a work so endlessly moving?

“Tree” calls for only three singers — Kumudha, the Prince and the Storyteller, who are seconded by a trio of dancers, Doppelgänger, as it were, who bring animation to the narrative and amplify the inner emotions of the singers.

Vocalists in San Francisco — as in Vienna and Berlin — were soprano Jessica Rivera, stellar as Nuria in Osvaldo Golojov’s “Ainadamar” at the Santa Fe Opera in 2005, tenor Russell Thomas and bass Eric Owens. All three are young artists of promise, distinguished by their thorough command of this score and their obvious commitment to it.

The Javanese dancers — Rusini Sidi, Eka Supriyanto and Astri Kusuma Wardani — were also responsible for the choreography for this semi-staged production.

Action was confined to three overlapping ovals that shared the Davies stage with the orchestra and to a smaller space above and to the left of the ensemble. The simplicity of the staging complemented the leanness of Adams’ score and of the libretto. Written by Sellars and the composer, the text runs a mere 9 pages in the SFS program book.

The overwhelming quality of the work is its beauty, a word that one uses with hesitation in talking about new music. Too often suggests the warmed-up Brahms of the now largely forgotten New Romanticism of a few decades ago or the embarrassed hovering at the edge of dissonance where many modernists dwell, fearful of losing their audience should they move one step further from the triad.

Adams’ embrace of tonality is unashamed and without apology, for it comes from the heart; this — like its story — is music with a soul.

And, yes, Adams’ early minimalism (he turned 60 in February) is still present, but only as a subtext in a score, in which craftsmanship and accessibility are remarkably balanced.

For “Tree” too, one might say, marks a transformation in the career of this, America’s most-performed living composer. Here it is the lyricism of long sustained lines that dominates; rhythmic figures, although subtle, are never complex.

The work is through-composed — without big arias or “numbers” — and this accounts for its easy and seamless flow.

“Tree,” which runs 2.5 hours with a single intermission, is clearly a major work. It centers on four scenes of transformation, for — recalling Richard Strauss’ Daphne — Kumuhda is able to change herself into a tree, which she does to escape the recurrent miseries of her life.

For these scenes, the backbone of ‘Tree,” Adams has written music that is truly transcendent — rich in its sonorities and textures and mesmerizing in communicating the emotional impact of the story.

Like the “Sea Interludes” in Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” these sections of the score will no doubt become an orchestral suite.

Essential to the work is the chorus, which Adams says should number at least 40 singers. The SFS gave him more than twice that number, superbly rehearsed by David J. Xiques, the brightly dressed ensemble was a major participant in the drama at hand.

“Tree” is scored for a symphonic ensemble of medium size with a massive percussion battery.

At a pre-performance interview Sellars characterized the work as a masterpiece of “joyful transformation,” which sums up its essence and its impact.

Kumuhda and her Prince find each other and their love again at, but only after a journey through pain and adversity, and it is this honesty about life and the blows that it deals that account for the authenticity of “Tree.”

Like the last two of Mozart’s 40 symphonies — the pensive D Minor and the exuberant “:Jupiter” — this is the other side of the coin explored by Adams and Sellars in their 2005 “Doctor Atomic,” the tale of physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer’s Faustian flirtation with the force of infinite destruction.

Indeed, Sellar’s recently referred to the earlier opera as ‘Adams’ ‘Götterdämmerung.”

“A Flowering Tree” is a co-commission of the San Francisco Symphony, Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival, the Berlin Philharmonic, London’s Barbicon Centre and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York. The composer conducted the Viennese premiere; Simon Rattle was on the podium for the Berlin performance.

And, by the way, “Doctor Atomic” will be on stage at Chicago Lyric Opera between December 14, 2007 and January 19, 2008.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):