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Review - A Flowering Tree: something very different

Above: Craig Colclough and Eva Kong and right, Adrian Dwyer

A Flowering Tree

By John Adams

Libretto adapted by John Adams and Peter Sellars from a South Indian folktale and poems translated by A.K. Ramanujan

Directed by Patrick Nolan

Conductor Natalie Murray Beale

Opera Queensland

Concert Hall

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank Brisbane

Season: April 2-6. Bookings: or 136 246. Duration: approximately two hours 15 minutes including interval. Sung in English and Spanish with English Surtitles.

This was something very different for me. I don’t know John Adams as a composer, apart from the fact that he is from the USA, and can’t remember seeing a “semi-staged” opera. For others like me…semi-staged meant that the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Queensland Chorus played and sang on the Concert Hall stage.

There was a cast of three which appeared, in front of and around the orchestra, with live projections on a screen at the back of the stage.

It took some getting used to but I think director Patrick Nolan did a great job in keeping continuity going for two hours plus.

The opera is based on a South Indian folktale: Kumudha is a young woman with a secret power – the ability to transform into a tree covered in valuable blossoms. The blossoms were used to weave garlands which were sold to provide for her family. The Prince sees the transformation and wants her for his wife.

But her gift inspires both love and jealousy and after falling in love with the Prince, his sister pushes her into using her power for the amusement of others, with dire consequences. She is attacked midway through her transformation and becomes a hideous half tree/half woman.

With a busy narrator, it is very much a sung story with the addition of some exquisite duets between the Prince and Kamudha. Korean born, Brisbane based soprano Eva Kong sang Kumudha and Australian, UK based tenor Adrian Dwyer was the Prince. To complete the international flavour American Craig Colclough sang The Narrator.

The Opera Queensland Chorus was, as usual, superb and created some spine tingling sounds as they sang other roles and expanded the narrative.

I am a fan of modern American music and was looking forward to hearing an Adams composition for the first time and I was not disappointed. There was a lot of jazz influence and plenty of atonal brass and woodwind. The score was highly dramatic and often unnerving as the story unfolded. There were times though when I felt the vibratory feel went on too long and I drifted mentally.

The transformation from small figures on stage, dressed in Indian robes to the big screen was created by Mic Gruchy’s videos and Jason Glenwright’s lighting design.

As I said this was a new experience for me. I am more used to a big stage, huge casts and often exotic costuming. There was some wild and appreciative applause at the end from the audience. I enjoyed the vocals but missed the spectacle of a fully staged performance.

The opera was premiered in 2006 in Vienna and this Helpmann Award winning production was first seen in Australia at the Perth Festival in 2009.

It was an interesting start to the Opera Queensland season.

Below: The stage view.