Venue Details

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The Kennedy Center - Concert Hall
2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566
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Reviews & Ratings

John Adams' Oratorio "El Niño" with Film by Peter Sellars
4 ratings
3.0 average rating
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4 events
4 reviews
2 stars
attended May 18 2008

Our seats were fine for comfort, listening, and viewing this mixed-media night of composition, choral arts, and silent cinema. Though we have previously liked works by this still-living justifiably-famous composer (John Adams,) this piece was...continued

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6 events
1 review
0 stars
attended May 18 2008

This is a fabulous piece of music. The soloists and children's choir were especially effective. The film, however was uninteresting, even amateurish, and was a distraction from the performance. The performance itself should have been a spectacle...continued

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More Information


The dramatic visuals combined with the melodic beauty and rhythmic vitality of John Adams’ El Niño score create an explosive and unforgettable celebration of birth and life. The performance features a modern retelling of the Nativity story, with a film by Peter Sellars.

Under the baton of Artistic Director Norman Scribner, soloists soprano Sharla Nafzinger, mezzo-soprano Leslie Mutchler, bass Christópheren Nomura and countertenors Brian Cummings, Paul Flight and Steven Rickards will perform with the Choral Arts chorus, the Children’s Chorus of Washington under Joan Gregoryk, and full orchestra.

Once in a very long while, a new masterpiece appears that captures the affections of all who hear it. Such is El Niño by John Adams, the world-renowned composer whose music speaks with extraordinary eloquence and passion to our own time. This Nativity oratorio uses English, Spanish and Latin texts drawn from sources ranging from the pre-Christian prophets to mid-20th-century Hispanic women writers to retell the traditional nativity narrative from modern, mostly female points of view. Ancient texts from the Haggai and Apocrypha are interspersed with poems from Mexican poets Rosario Castellanos and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, excerpts from the Wakefield Mystery Play and Martin Luther’s Christmas Sermon, and passages from the Gospel of Luke in creating the intricate and moving libretto.

The evocative score is enhanced by stunning visuals created by theater director Peter Sellars from the original production. Sellars’ silent film features eloquent and harsh images of L.A. street life and is timed with the score to run throughout the entire performance. The soloists perform rotating roles from the nativity narrative that are both reiterated and enhanced by the film.

The oratorio was written from 1999-2000, and the first performance took place at the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris on December 15, 2000. Kent Nagano conducted the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, the London Voices, the Theater of Voices (made up of countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Steven Rickards), La Maitresse de Paris and soloists Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White. Mr. Nagano also conducted the American premiere in 2001 with the San Francisco Symphony.

John Adams is one of America’s most admired and respected composers. A musician of enormous range and technical command, this Pulitzer Prize-winning artist has produced works, both operatic and symphonic, that stand out among all contemporary classical music for the depth of their expression, the brilliance of their sound and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Adams’ acclaimed operatic works Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic were all created with his frequent collaborator, director Peter Sellars. Adams conducted the Choral Arts Society in a series of performances of his Harmonium at Schlesinger Hall and with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in May 2004.