John Adams set out to write an oratorio about the Nativity of Christ; but as he worked on it, El Nino
became a more dramatic piece than he intended, flowering into a staged opera in which the oratorio's free-flowing singer's identity becomes an effective statement of a mystical point. Dawn Upshaw and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson--singing a mixture of biblical texts and Spanish/Mexican poetry--are both Mary and at the same time all women. The same is true of the dancer Daniela Graca, the women of the chorus and the young Hispanic-American woman who has her child and argues with her boyfriend in contemporary LA. Willard White is both Joseph and Herod, while the trio of counter-tenors are Angels and Shepherds and Kings. Because the work was written in close consultation with director Peter Sellars, it is a remarkably collaborative vision of music and staging. This is a gloriously sung piece, which continues Adams' voyage through minimalism into a lush tonal style still informed by minimalist simplicity, but it is also an impressive piece of theatre in which every physical gesture has a musical cue. This production from the Chatelet Theatre, Paris, under the baton of Kent Nagano, is more or less definitive.
On the DVD: Unusually for an Arthaus Musik release, this DVD comes with an extended documentary in which Adams, Sellars, Nagano and Upshaw talk insightfully about the creation and nature of the piece. Sellars is particularly impressive in his talk of opera as the art form for a multicultural era. The picture format is 16:9 and the viewer is offered a choice of PCM stereo or Dolby Digital for the audio.--Roz Kaveney