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John ADAMS (b. 1947)
El niño - a work for music theatre to a libretto by John Adams and Peter Sellars (2000)
Dawn Upshaw (soprano); Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo); Willard White (baritone); Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier: Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Steven Rickards (counter-tenors); Dancers: Daniela Graça, Nora Kimball, Michael Schumacher; London Voices/Terry Edwards; Maîtrise de Paris Children’s Choir/Patrick Marco; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano
Stage Director: Peter Sellars
rec. live, Théâtre Musical de Paris-Châtelet, 2000
Picture Format: 16:9
Disc Format: NTSC
Sound Format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.0
Region: 0
Languages: English
Subtitle Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 669 [119.00 + 28.00] 

As far as I can tell, this is a reissue of the DVD reviewed by Ian Lace for this website as far back as 2002. It is obviously a recording of the same production of El niño’s world première.
 
When I selected the DVD for review, I assumed it was of a new production because the work has received a number of notable performances since the première. Furthermore, the label is the same as the earlier issue, only the photo on the cover of the box and booklet are different. There is no mention, whatsoever, on the box or in the booklet that it appeared earlier for the label. Very strange, indeed. That said, I couldn’t imagine anyone else topping this performance. I also have the performance on CD recorded after the world première that I purchased when it was issued. The added advantage of video should make this indispensable, but this is where I have some doubts.
 
I find the stage “action” of this “Christmas Oratorio,” as it is referred to in the accompanying booklet, very watchable with the wonderful singing and acting of Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Willard White, the three counter-tenors, and the choruses quite moving. The dancers, although in a less important role, are also excellent. It is the filmed scenes of Los Angeles, the beach and the desert that I found very distracting. I know they are supposed to represent a modern take on the traditional Christmas story, but there is little continuity in the way they keep jumping in and out during the production. Even worse are the out-of-focus videos of glittering lights. These are indeed difficult to watch.
 
I have not seen the earlier DVD of this production, but the picture and sound quality here are certainly good, if not what one would expect now with the advent of Blu-ray. I don’t know whether this recording is available on Blu-ray. If not and you have the earlier DVD, I see no reason to purchase this one. The oratorio lasts just under two hours with another nearly half-hour of interviews with Sellars, Nagano, Upshaw and Adams. I found that discussion to be very worthwhile and would recommend watching it before the main event. The DVD box has a booklet with good notes in English, French, and German, and a few black-and-white photos. As to the music itself, it is one of Adams’ better stage efforts, but overall I prefer his purely orchestral music. That is not to say that it is in any way unmemorable. In fact it contains some really fine music that stays with you, and the performances are special. However, when I want to hear it again I will listen to the CDs and can visualize what I saw on stage.
 
Leslie Wright 

Previous review (original issue): Ian Lace


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