Tonight at the Mostly Mozart Festival: A Flowering Tree

The Pulitzer-Prize winning composer John Adams has written operas about Richard Nixon and the atom bomb, but this week, New Yorkers are getting his take on something a little more upbeat – a mythical love story set in south India. The opera is called A Flowering Tree, and it premieres tonight as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival.

A Flowering Tree is a far cry from Adams' last New York appearance. His opera Dr. Atomic told the story of the Manhattan Project. And, in 2002, Adams won a Pulitzer for a choral work commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

For this project, Adams wanted to move his focus away from destruction and warfare.

ADAMS: And I felt this real need to kind of reconnect with the natural world and in this case the sort of prehistoric world, which is the world of fable and folklore.

REPORTER: At a recent dress rehearsal at "Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall", director Peter Sellars said that A Flowering Tree may be set in the mythical past, but the opera explores contemporary issues.

SELLARS: Flowering Tree treats very directly the ecological crises of this generation and, and some of the real crises of youth all over the world.

REPORTER: Sellars has collaborated with Adams on several projects, including his 1987 opera about Nixon's meeting with China's Chairman Mao.

He says the differences between historical fact and fanciful mythology, aren't really that great:

SELLARS: Richard Nixon is a mythological being. Mao Zedong is a mythological being. And everybody makes of them what they will. You know, there's a little bit of story that you're told or gets passed on, but of course we've created these things as our own myths which contain all the things we feel or we need to say or think about this world.

REPORTER: A Flowering Tree had its world premiere in Vienna in 2006, but it makes its New York debut this summer -- tonight, in fact -- as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.

And, WNYC's Evening Music just had it's own festival in honor of Mozart. You can find more details about both events on our culture page.