Cincinnati Opera and the Indian Connection
The stage is set for a grand performance of ‘A Flowering Tree’ tonight at the Cincinnati Opera.
Yet, this is a night like no other opening night. Why?
It is a special connection with India, particularly South India that makes this opening so special.
The generic title ‘Flowering Tree’ belies its Indian origins. Yet, India is the space where this story is set, in John Adams’ opera that premiered in Vienna in November 2006.
I am eager to see an operatic presentation of a story that I worked with back in 1993 in Cincinnati where we had a group of amateur musicians and actors perform a collection of folk tales tightly knit together in a collaboratively created production.
I heard the fascinating story of the flowering tree from by two young students at UC, whose family had immigrated to the United States from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh; these two sisters enacted this story as the center piece of this production ‘Kathanjali’ with musical accompaniment played on the veena, folk drums, conches, folk oboes and more.
As with all folk tales there are several variations on the Flowering tree as well. Adams’ work is based on veteran writer A.K. Ramanujam’s narrative of this tale.
The Flowering tree is all about magic, innocence, the triumph of goodness, the ability of the human spirit to face travails and all the good things that the eternal child in us always likes to hear.
Stories are an integral part of Indian culture. References to characters from the timeless classics as well as from regional folk traditions abound in conversations ranging all the way from political rhetoric to local gossip. Stories are passed down to grandchildren by grandmothers as they hand feed delicacies; stories are told through music,through street theater, through mime, dance, puppetry and through every possible medium.
My kids and I have heard the music of The flowering tree; have seen still photographs; have pondered over the differences between this version and the version that we are familiar with.
And I cannot wait to see this production tonight.