Adams: A Flowering Tree

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: A Flowering Tree
PERFORMER: Jessica Rivera, Russell Thomas,
Eric Owens; Schola Cantorum de Caracas; London SO/John Adams
CATALOGUE NO: 7559 799 651


To the casual listener, there are two John Adamses: one who engages with modern history – Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, Doctor Atomic – and one whose music expresses the great and small miracles of domestic life. Listen closer, and you realise that the personal and the political are inseparable. Presidents and terrorists alike have dreams and doubts, and the baby in El Niño is born into dispossession and poverty. Written for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, and adapted from AK Ramanujan’s translation of a 2000 year-old South Indian folk tale, A Flowering Tree is Adams’s most succinct, magical and overtly moral opera. With a nod to The Magic Flute in the shimmering figures for glockenspiel and celesta, it fuses the melismatic arias, dramatic recitatives and folk-influenced choruses of El Niño with the quasi-exotic sonorities of The Dharma at Big Sur. Adams has created his most touching role in Kumudha – the girl who is transformed into a tree, marries a prince and is left, mid-metamorphosis, a mutilated beggar. Jessica Rivera’s candid, girlish soprano is similar in timbre to Dawn Upshaw but without Upshaw’s idiosyncratic vowels. As the clumsy Prince, Russell Thomas’s virile tenor is arresting, while bass-baritone Eric Owens’s Storyteller is faultless. Under Adams’s brittle beat, the London Symphony Orchestra have some edgy moments of ensemble but the woodwind and percussion detail is breathtaking. Members of Schola Cantorum de Caracas take the roles of mother, king and beggars with irrepressible vivacity. Anna Picard