Eva Kong in Opera Queensland's A Flowering Tree
Eva Kong in Opera Queensland's A Flowering Tree

Opera Queensland's The Flowering Tree blooms elegantly

OPERA Queensland opened its season this week with the elegant simplicity of The Flowering Tree at Brisbane's QPAC concert hall.

Featuring just three performers working with the choir and orchestra, the minimalist presentation of this Indian folktale featured the timeless themes of life - love and loss, lessons learned, universal truths and finally a triumph over evil. However, its modern interpretation brought though issues of climate change, sustainability and feminism.

The opera is expressed through three voices - the narrator (Craig Colclough, who seemed to be sending the occasional bemused look to the audience), Kumudha (Eva Kong) and the Prince (Adrian Dwyer) - and tells the story of two sisters from a poor family.

The elder sister learns to transform the younger sister, through water rituals, into a tree that blooms with flowers of commercial value. The money made from selling these flowers subsidises the family, while at the same time the amazing transformation gains the attentions of a Prince, who eventually marries the younger girl for her magical powers rather than love.

However, after much stupidity and soul-searching, true love triumphs.

Rather than an overt high-tech spectacle, the young girl's transformation is expressed on a huge 12m screen through a flowing range of sepia-tinged coloured flowers - lotus, calendulas, buds, petals and pollinating bees shadowed through the larger-than-life images of the OQ choir and orchestra members.

The transformative water ritual is beautifully pictured through slim tunnels of running water tracing silvery trails down a blackened screen.

Videographer Mic Gruchy utilises his skills further to bring the audience up close and personal with picture rolls of intricate Indian miniatures, providing an exotic sense of time, place and cultural history. On the set, silky swathes of white sails hang high from either side of the stage, the unadorned fabric sways and swaggers, gently alluding to the emotional tone of the narrative.

In contrast to the simplicity of the stage, the soaring ceiling at different times lights up with lines of decorative lights and from there drop hundreds of rose petals.

Void of flamboyant costumes or fantastical scenery decoration, the minimalist production finally gives a nod to Bollywood with a glowing purple bridal arch framing the re-united lovers.

In a world where climate change asks what price we place on nature, where authenticity is challenged by fake news, and the prevalence of storms and drought point to other worldly control, the gentle, yet dramatic operatic interpretation of this Indian folktale beautifully portrays a pertinent narrative.

Opera, similar to many other areas of the arts, is looking for more audiences. After attending the opening night performance of the Queensland Opera's The Flowering Tree - I'm in!

The Flowering Tree runs up to and including Saturday April 6 at the Concert Hall QPAC. 


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