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Penguin Guide, January 2009

El Niño is essentially a staged oratorio telling the story of the Annunciation and birth of Christ, the journey to Bethlehem, the visit of the Three Kings, Herod’s slaughter of the first-born and the prudent departure of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The opera staging places the principal singers, chorus and semi-chorus (comprising three counter-tenors) on a plinth below a hug screen on which is projected a two-hour film (made by Peter Sellars and Yreina Cervántez).

The role of Mary is shared by mezzo-soprano and soprano; and the long Annunciation aria, set to lyric poetry by Rosario Castellanos (gloriously sung by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson), is an outstanding highlight of the score, as is the same lyricist’s soprano/mezzo duet, Se habla de Gabriel. Dawn Upshaw, who has more of a narrative role, also sings with great beauty and eloquence.

Much of Willard White’s contribution (he takes the part of Joseph) is boldly dramatic recitative, but his performance remains unforgettably powerful.

It has to be said that much of the visual imagery (apart from the main events of the story) is confusing, even superfluous, and does not bear repeated viewing; but the three principals all sing with moving eloquence and are always worth watching. So there is a good case for the audio version, which includes full texts, as against the video’s subtitles. Whether on CD or DVD, the recording is impressively spacious and clear.

Ivan Moody
International Record Review, February 2002

"I have rarely been so immediately impressed by a new work as with El Niño. John Adams's opera ... is a powerful vision of the Christmas story, containing some of the most lively, sensuous, celebratory and memorable music he has written, accompanied and complemented by Peter Sellars's striking visual imagery... Adams is justly known for his gifts as an orchestrator, and they are nowhere more in evidence than here; the whole work scintillates, shines with colour and invention... This is a spectacular team, the Deutsches Symphony Orchestra, Berlin, under Kent Nagano, respond with brilliance to the richness and detail of the score and support the impressive choirs and soloists with great sensitivity. For the three soloists, no praise is too high... It is an achievement of such vision and depth that I'll risk saying that it's a masterpiece."

Matthew Rye
BBC Music Magazine, February 2002

"The problem with Peter Sellars's staging of El nino, Adams's Hispanic retelling of the Nativity, was his tell-tale multi-layering of parallel visual events making it difficult to know what one should be watching at a given moment. The advantage of the DVD is that the film director, in this case Peter Maniura, has made the decisions for you, focusing at appropriate times on the otherwise continuous film, the singer-actors or the dancers. Certainly the close-ups on the singers -- Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Dawn Upshaw, Willard White and the three countertenors of the Theatre of Voices -- bring compelling immediacy to Adams's exceptional vocal settings."

MusicWeb International, December 2001

"Adams new opera/oratorio has much to recommend it. The music is colourful and accessible... Certainly worth visiting."

David Gutman

"The performance is beyond criticism, combining absolute vocal assurance with dramatic flair. A multimedia extravaganza from Peter Sellars' top drawer."

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