Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

“A Flowering Tree”—Operatic

The Indian folktale of a girl who turns into a blossoming tree is transformed into music by John C. Adams.


Amaltas in bloom, Chandigarh, India

Photo: Chandigarh Tribune

“There lived an old woman with her two daughters. She did menial jobs to feed and clothe and bring up her children. When the girls reached puberty, the younger sister said one day, ‘Sister, I’ve been thinking of something. It’s hard on mother to work all day for our sakes. I want to help her. I will turn myself into a flowering tree. You can take the flowers and sell them for good money.’

“Amazed, the older sister asked, ‘How will you turn into a flowering tree?’”…

image Scene from “A Flowering Tree”

by John C. Adams/Peter Sellars

Photo: SF Examiner

Good question. To learn the answer, you may want to buy a ticket for composer John C. Adams’s “A Flowering Tree.” The opera, which premiered in Vienna in November, makes its U.S. debut tomorrow night in San Francisco.

The story comes from an old tale of Southern India, one lush with low-hanging dramatic fruit. There are jealous sisters-in-law, a handsome prince, dismemberment (it’s true) and many strategic pitchers of water. Of course, there are the human-flowers, too, produced by self-sacrificing heroine Kumudha.

If you can’t attend the opera, make your own music, and read A.K. Ramanujan’s version of the tale right here.  John Adams said that, weary of his own dark themes,  he decided to compose an opera in the tender spirit of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and found the psychic-seed in Ramanujan’s story.

Here you may listen to a sound clip, sparkling as a pink cassia tree. For the libretto, Adams joined forces with longtime collaborator Peter Sellars.

imageRed Silk Cotton tree (Bombax malabarica)

Image: D.V. Cowan

The heroine of Richard Strauss’ opera “Daphne”  also mixes ardor with arbor. But Adams notes, “Unlike Strauss, who got only one transformation to compose,” in his own opera, there are four human-to-flower changes.  “And the transformations are much more disturbing than Kumudha anticipates. It’s as though she had casually dropped acid, and now it’s not going to be just a regular Saturday night.” How fitting for its first U.S. performance to be in San Francisco.

Adams himself will conduct the San Francisco Symphony in “A Flowering Tree” March 1-3. This summer, the opera will be performed in London and Amsterdam. (Here’s a schedule.)

Of course, we wonder which flowering tree Kumudhah becomes. There are soooo many possibilities. Just take a look at this very-slow-loading but sumptuous and illustrated catalogue of India’s flowering trees and shrubs. Drumstick tree, Trumpet Flower, Banyan, Peepul….Then clear your throat. There’s a lot to sing about.

Posted by Julie on 02/28 at 06:02 PM
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