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

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent. Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music. . ,

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

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):