by Stephanie Manning
In the 22 years since it was written, John Adams’ El Niño has been programmed in all kinds of creative ways. The premiere of the oratorio was accompanied by a silent film, and the 2014 Spoleto Festival brought in a crew of puppeteers. But on November 18, The Cleveland Orchestra decided to keep it simple. The straightforward concert-style presentation, conducted by Adams, let the music speak for itself — and it had plenty to say.
El Niño, a modern retelling of the birth of Jesus, isn’t an easy work to explain. Commissioned at the turn of the millennium, the oratorio tells the Biblical story from new perspectives, primarily by centering women’s voices in the narrative. It combines traditional texts with the Wakefield Mystery Plays, Haggai, and ancient and contemporary Latin American poetry. Essentially, Adams set out to write his own Messiah — but while Handel’s work is unquestionably a celebration, Adams takes a more nuanced approach, tackling big questions about the nature of miracles, pregnancy, and motherhood. [Read more…]