Joana Carneiro has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. She was born in 1976, two years after her native Portugal overthrew dictatorship for democracy.
“The country was open to opportunity for everyone — there were no barriers,” Carneiro says, grateful for the opportunities for an aspiring conductor.
Twenty-six years later she has her own orchestra, international guest engagements and, this week, she’s in the pit for Cincinnati Opera’s production of John Adams’ A Flowering Tree.
Carneiro led three previous productions and she comes with the distinct advantage of being Adams’ assistant for the 2006 world premiere in Vienna.
“I learned the score from John, which is a great privilege,” she says.
“While John was rehearsing the singers, I worked with the orchestra and Peter Sellars who did the staging.”
A Flowering Tree is a major departure from Adams’ politically informed works (Dr. Atomic, Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer) and is based on a South Indian folktale about Kamuda, a young woman who transforms herself into a flowering tree whose blossoms support her impoverished family. She marries a prince, but his jealous sister drives them apart. After years of separation and hardships, the couple is reunited.
“It’s about the power of love and how it can change us,” Carneiro says. “It’s an old story yet it’s quite contemporary.”
A Flowering Tree, the Cincinnati Opera's latest John Adams-penned production, takes over Music Hall with conductor Joana Carneiro at the helm. Go here to read Anne Arenstein's full interview.