El Niño (opera)

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El Niño
Opera-oratorio by John Adams
Composer John Adams, 2008
Descriptionnativity oratorio
LibrettistPeter Sellars
December 15, 2000 (2000-12-15)

El Niño is an opera-oratorio by the American composer John Adams. It was premiered on December 15, 2000 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris by soloists Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White, the vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices, (comprising countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Steven Rickards), the London Voices, La Maîtrise de Paris, and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, 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 Darío, 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.[2]


The work is scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists, a trio of countertenors, a forty-five piece orchestra (including two guitars and a sampling keyboard), SATB chorus, and a children's chorus.[3] It can be performed either as a staged production or as a concert oratorio.[2][4] The original semi-staged production by Peter Sellars includes dance and film elements.[2][5]

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 and San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Piedmont Children's Choir, and with the same soloists as at the Paris premiere.[2][6]

It was also given in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in March 2003 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen, and with the same soloists.[7]

In May 2003 the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed the work under the direction of Robert Spano and the following month opened the 67th Ravinia Festival with a critically acclaimed performance of the oratorio.[8][9]

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.[10]

Musical sections[edit]

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

Part 1 Part 2
  1. I Sing of a Maiden
  2. Hail, Mary, Gracious!
  3. La anunciación
  4. For with God no thing shall be impossible
  5. The babe leaped in her womb
  6. Magnificat
  7. Now she was sixteen years old
  8. Joseph's Dream
  9. Shake the heavens
  10. Se Habla de Gabriel
  11. The Christmas Star
  1. Pues mi dios ha nacido
  2. When Herod heard
  3. Woe unto them that call evil good
  4. And the star went before them
  5. The Three Kings
  6. And when they were departed
  7. Dawn Air
  8. And he slew all the children
  9. Memorial de Tlatelolco
  10. In the day of the great slaughter
  11. Pues está tritando
  12. Jesus and the Dragons
  13. A Palm Tree


  • 2000: DVD video: Sellars' Paris production of El Niño with Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Willard White; conductor: Kent Nagano. Arthaus Musik, Cat #101669[11]
  • 2001: 2-CD recording of original cast from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. Nonesuch Records, Cat #79634-2[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ George Hall, "El Niño by John Adams – review", The Guardian (London), 16 December 2013
  2. ^ a b c d El Niño, earbox.com (John Adams' website)
  3. ^ "John Adams - El Niño". www.boosey.com.
  4. ^ "Search events". www.lpo.org.uk.
  5. ^ "John Adams and Peter Sellars Join for Nativity Oratorio : El Niño: A Heavenly Force, by David Stevens, The New York Times, December 20, 2000
  6. ^ Bernard Holland, "Music Review; With Ears and Eyes in Fierce Competition, the Eyes Have It", The New York Times, January 15, 2001
  7. ^ T. Savage, "El Niño an oratorio by John Adams" on tribes.org
  8. ^ Gresham, Mark (2003-05-29). "El Niño blows into town | Atlanta Creative Loafing". Creativeloafing.com. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  9. ^ "John Adams, quiet seeker of spiritual truth - Chicago Tribune". Articles.chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-02-02. Retrieved 2017-03-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ El Niño – John Adams Archived 2015-07-01 at the Wayback Machine on arthaus-musik.com
  12. ^ "John Adams: El Niño" on nonesuch.com

External links[edit]