By Edward Kliszus
In the magnificent nave at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, listeners experienced El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered, a unique, innovative portrayal of the Nativity of Christ. The event was a production of the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC). It featured music by John Adams, a libretto compilation by Peter Sellars, musical selections by Julia Bullock, and musical arrangements by Christian Reif.
Sonic, Visual, and Spiritual Resonance
Soprano Julia Bullock explained that “anywhere we choose to congregate can be considered sacred when we hear stories, reflect on lessons from those narratives, and witness each other in the process.” Her words came to fruition through the beautiful sonic, visual, and spiritual resonance of the Cathedral.
Pathos, Sound, Light, and Shadows
El Niño was an immersive, significant holiday season experience on the night of the Winter Solstice. Each element of the production fit beautifully into a singular, dynamic experience. The artistry of the soloists, choir, orchestra, and poetry connected each listener with ethereal pulses of pathos, sound, light, and shadows. One was captivated into reflection and introspection on this darkest yet brightest evening of the year.
Tonight’s sacred theatrical experience re-imagined the classic nativity story, giving voice to women and paying tribute to Latin American poets. The music elegantly blended traditional classical sounds with modern contemporary motifs influenced by Latin American culture, resulting in a unique and unforgettable musical experience.
The diverse ensemble cast featured incomparable vocalist luminaries, including soprano Julia Bullock, contralto Jasmin White, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Bass-baritone Davóne Tines. These gifted artists delivered incredible performances with seamless transitions between English and Spanish. Sellars’ libretto highlighted women’s perspectives within the nativity story, providing a magnificent ode to poems from celebrated poets, including Gabriela Mistral and Rosario Castellanos.
This AMOC production of El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered earned an overwhelmingly positive response from the hundreds in attendance. The performance presented a groundbreaking approach to the traditional nativity story, an exceptional celebration of diverse voices in a sacred space, and an evocation of profound joy and reverence for its viewers. Ultimately, this captivating and mesmerizing production showcased the incredible power of music and storytelling in bringing people from different walks of life together.
El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered explored themes of migration, transformation, and spiritual transcendence, creating an experience that was visually stunning and emotionally profound. With its haunting music, exquisite singing, and imagery, El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered is a masterpiece of modern opera and a testament to the enduring power of great art to inspire and uplift the human spirit.
El Niño Nativity Reconsidered
Music by John Adams
Libretto compilation by Peter Sellars
Musical selections by Julia Bullock
Musical arrangements by Christian Reif
Conductor Christian Reif
Julia Bullock, Soprano
Jasmin White, Contralto
Anthony Roth Costanzo, Countertenor
Davóne Tines, Bass-baritone
Emi Ferguson, flute/piccolo
Roni Gal-Ed, oboe/English horn
Gleb Kanasevich, clarinet/bass clarinet
Alexander Davi, bassoon/contrabassoon
Nicolee Kuester, French horn
Conor Hanick, piano
John Arida, keyboard
Jonny Allen, percussion
Jordan Dodson, guitar
Violin: Keir GoGwilt, Miranda Cuckson, Julia Choi, Josh Henderson, Miran Kim, Siwoo Kim, and Ravenna Lipchik
Viola: Zoe Martin-Doike, Tia Alle, Carrie Frey, and Cella Hatton
Cello: Coleman ltzkoff, Seth Parker Woods, and Titilayo Ayangade
Double Bass: Doug Balliett and Christopher Johnson
Soprano: Elizabeth Bates, Meg Dudley, Madeline Healey, and Chloe Holgate
Alto: Tomas Cruz, Devony Smith, Kirsten Sollek, and Pamela Terry
Tenor: Timothy Hodges, Lawrence Jones, David Vanderwal, and Tommy Wazelle
Bass: Jeffrey Gavett, Steven Hrycelak, Brian Mextorf, and Edmund Milly
Runtime about 75 minutes without intermission.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Handel’s Messiah by the Oratorio Society of New York, Christmas at Corpus Christi Church, The American Symphony Orchestra and Händel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Peter & the Wolf by Works & Process, Transcendent Triumph and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall, The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space, and The New Jersey Ballet at the Mayo Arts Center.