Robert Croan filed the following report from New York from the 2009 Music Critics Association of North America convention, which I unfortunately couldn't make at the last minute:
John Adams’ “The Flowering Tree” was jointly commissioned by five organizations for Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006. Premiered in Vienna, it has been making the rounds with several productions since then. It reached Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival Aug. 13, with a physically beautiful production directed by Peter Sellars in the lovely Rose Hall, usually a jazz venue in the spectacular Time Warner Center.
More oratorio than opera, the 2-hour work pays homage to “The Magic Flute” with a pretentious libretto about transformation, trial by fire and redemption. Held together by a narrator (baritone Sanford Sylvan) and enacted by two more singers and three dancers, the slim plot centers on a young woman who turns herself into a tree and sells its produce to ease the lives of her impoverished mother and sister. (In the process she manages to make a prince fall in love with her.) The score – well-realized by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s under the composer’s baton – is freely minimalist, with a bit of almost every other style thrown in. It’s often lovely, but insufficiently varied to delineate the range of emotions portrayed, while the use of body mikes made it impossible to determine the singers’ real sounds.
Members of the Music Critics Association of North America, in New York for their annual meeting, also took in a workaday Beethoven concert by Mostly Mozart’s Festival Orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall. It was pleasant enough, though neither Osmo Vanska (Minnesota Orchestra’s music director) nor pianist Yevgeny Sudbin (in Concerto No. 4) brought outstanding insights to the familiar masterpieces. Far more interesting, if unrelated to Mostly Mozart, was Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5: the Musical”: a thoroughly delightful romp on Broadway, which deserves a run in Pittsburgh at the earliest possible timeslot.