Composer John Adams’s nativity oratorio, featuring singers Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Dawn Upshaw, and Willard White, draws from pre-Christian and modern texts in English, Latin, and Spanish. The Los Angeles Times called it “Adams’s most powerful and affecting and sublimely assured music.”
The CD of this album is available to purchase at ArkivMusic.
“John Adams captured the intimacy, mystery, and apocalyptic nature of the Nativity story in a thoroughly contemporary idiom," wrote the Wall Street Journal, "fusing his well-known minimalist style with a rich blend of text in English, Spanish, and Latin for an effect ultimately as timeless as the story itself.”
Bringing fresh perspectives to an ancient story, John Adams treats the theme of the Nativity in the evening-length oratorio El Niño. The work received its world premiere performance at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in December 2000, followed by its North American premiere in San Francisco the following January, both to great critical acclaim. Nonesuch Records released its world premiere recording in August 2001.
El Niño features a trio of world-renowned vocal soloists—Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Willard White. The cast of performers also includes Paul Hilliard’s Theatre of Voices, a full chorus (The London Voices), and the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, conducted by Kent Nagano. The texts were compiled by Adams and his longtime collaborator Peter Sellars, who also created a stage production for the original performances.
El Niño weaves Nativity texts from diverse and sometimes surprising sources into a dramatic whole. At the core are six poems by Mexico’s two great women poets, Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz and Rosario Castellanos. “So much of the ‘official’ narrative has traditionally been told by the Church, and presumably by men,” says Adams. “But seldom in the orthodox stories is there any awareness of the misery and pain of labor, of the uncertainty and doubt of pregnancy or of that mixture of supreme happiness and inexplicable emptiness that follows the moment of birth. All of those intense emotional dramas surrounding the birth of a child are touched on in the poetry of these Hispanic women.”
Interwoven within the narrative of El Niño are sections of little-known Gnostic Infancy Gospels. These gospels, written at roughly the same time as the New Testament Gospels, treat the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus with often greater shading, subtlety, and even humor than the official Biblical texts, which are also set in the piece.
Produced by Wilhelm Hellweg
Recorded December 2000 at Le Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
Engineered by Gilles Pezerat and Mark Grey
Assistant Engineers: Alain Joubert, Gérard Cognet, Pierre Bouillin
Additional Recording January 2001 at The Plant, Los Angeles
Engineered by Mark Grey
Assistant Engineer: Billy Konkel
Edited by Pierre Bouillin at Radio France
Mixed by Gilles Pezerat at Radio France
Assistant Engineer: Pierre Bouillin
Technical director for Radio France: Francis Robert
Mastered by Jean Marie Gijssen, Polyhymnia International, Baarn, Netherlands
Additional mastering by Robert C. Ludwig at Gateway Mastering Studios, Portland, ME
Design by John Heiden, SMOG
Cover art: Mujer de Mucha Enagua, PA’TI XICANA (1999) by Yreina Cervantes
EL Niño was co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony – with generous, endowed support of Phyllis C. Wattis – Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York), the Barbican Centre (London), and the BBC. Libretto adapted from poems by Rosaria Castellanos, Gabriela Mistral, Hildegard von Bingen, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rubén Darío, Vicente Huidobro, and anonymous and text from Wakefield Mystery Plays, Documents for the Study of the Gospels, Haggai, and the Bible.
Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano (disc 1: 3, 9-11; disc 2: 1, 4, 11, 13)
Dawn Upshaw, soprano (disc 1: 2, 6, 7, 9-11; disc 2, 4, 5, 9, 12)
Willard White, bass-baritone (disc 1: 7-11; disc 2: 2-4, 7, 11)
Theatre of Voices (disc 1: 1, 2, 4-9, 11; disc 2: 2, 3, 5, 12, 13): Paul Hillier, artistic director; Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Steven Rickards, countertenors
London Voices (disc 1: 1, 4-6, 9, 11; disc 2: 1, 6, 8-11), Terry Edwards, choir director
Maîtrise de Paris (disc 2: 13), Patrick Marco, director
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano, conductor