El Niño (opera)

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El Niño is an opera-oratorio by the American composer John Adams. It was premiered on December 15, 2000 at Paris's Théâtre du Châtelet by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the London Voices, the vocal ensemble Theater of Voices, (comprising countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Steven Rickards, La Maîtrise de Paris, and soloists Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White), with Kent Nagano conducting. It has been performed on a number of occasions since, and has been broadcast on BBC television.

Described as a "nativity oratorio",[1] it retells the Christmas story, with the first half focusing on Mary's thoughts before the birth in the stable in Bethlehem, and the second half covering the aftermath of the birth, Herod's slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and the early life of Jesus.

The text follows the traditional biblical story but also incorporates text from the King James Bible, the Wakefield Mystery Plays, Martin Luther’s Christmas Sermon, the Gospel of Luke, and several gnostic gospels from the Apocrypha. Also included are poems by Rosario Castellanos, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, Rubén Dario, librettist Peter Sellars, and Adams himself. He also quotes Gabriela Mistral’s "The Christmas Star" and incorporates a choral setting of "O quam preciosa" by Hildegard von Bingen.

Performance history[edit]

The American premiere took place on January 11, 2001 at Davies Hall, San Francisco with Kent Nagano conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Piedmont Children’s Choir, and with the same soloists as at the Paris premiere.[2][3]

It was also given in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in January 2013 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen, and with the same soloists.[4]

A new and highly praised production, using puppets instead of dancers and film, was given at Spoleto Festival USA in May 2014, directed by John La Bouchardière and featured the Westminster Choir, directed by Joe Miller. [5]

Musical sections[edit]

El Niño is approximately two hours long, comprises two sections, and is subdivided further into thirteen sub-sections as follows:


  • 2000: DVD video: Sellars' Paris production of El Niño with Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Willard White, Cond: Kent Nagano. Arthaus Musik, Cat #: 101669[6]
  • 2001: 2-CD recording of original cast from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. Nonesuch, Cat #: 79634-2[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ George Hall, "El Niño by John Adams – review, The Guardian (London), 16 December 2013
  2. ^ Bernard Holland, "MUSIC REVIEW; With Ears and Eyes in Fierce Competition, the Eyes Have It", The New York Times, January 15, 2001
  3. ^ "El Niño" on earbox.com
  4. ^ T. Savage, "El Niño an oratorio by John Adams" on tribes.org
  5. ^ Heidi Waleson, "An Intimate Adams Amid Bleak Offerings", Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2014
  6. ^ EL NIÑO: John Adams" on arthaus-musik.com
  7. ^ "John Adams: El Niño" on nonesuch.com

External links[edit]