El Niño (oratorio)
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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 Symphony Orchestra, the London Voices, the Theater of Voices, 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 by Adams as a "nativity oratorio", the piece is designed to be performed equally well in both concert and stage settings, and uses texts from the King James Bible, Wakefield Mystery Plays and poems by Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos as well as Adams and librettist Peter Sellars.
It retells the Christmas story, with the first half of focusing on Mary's thoughts before the birth and the second half on the aftermath of the birth in the stable in Bethlehem, Herod's slaughter of the Holy Innocents and the early life of Jesus. The text follows the traditional biblical story of the birth of Jesus but also incorporates poetry from a wide range of sources. Included are poems by Rosario Castellanos, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro and Rubén Dario. The work also includes selected passages from the Wakefield Mystery Plays, Martin Luther’s Christmas Sermon, the Gospel of Luke, and several "gnostic" gospels from the Apocrypha. John Adams also quotes Gabriela Mistral’s "The Christmas Star" and a choral setting of "O quam preciosa" by Hildegard von Bingen.
The work is scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists, a trio of counter-tenors, a forty-five piece orchestra (which includes two guitars and a sampling keyboard), SATB chorus, and children’s chorus. The work can be performed either as a fully staged production or as a concert oratorio. The fully staged production piece includes dance and film elements created by Peter Sellars.
El Niño is composed of two sections and is approximately two hours long and is subdivided further into thirteen sections as follows:
- DVD video: Sellars' Paris production of El Niño.
- 2-CD recording: original cast from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, issued by Nonesuch (79634-2)
- Death and the maiden: John Adams’s El Niño restages the Nativity, Josh Kun, The Phoenix, 15 - 22 November 2001.