Sunday, July 16, 2006

El Niño

My local public library has a few opera dvds, and among them I found a film of John Adams El Niño. I was interested in this because it is the Adams opera that immediately preceded Doctor Atomic. The presentation was in 2000 in Paris with Kent Nagano as the conductor. El Niño means the boy in Spanish.

The cast consists of the ubiquitous Dawn Upshaw (does anyone try to do a modern opera these days without Dawn Upshaw?), Willard White (Saint Francis in my memory) and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (my other reason for checking it out.)

It is called an opera in this video. Elsewhere it has been called a nativity oratorio. Everyone is dressed casually. Ms Upshaw is wearing a plaid shirt, for instance. It is simply a retelling of the nativity from Mary's viewpoint with texts from the Bible, carols, something called the Gospel of James, Luther's Christmas sermon, Hildegard von Bingen, etc.

Don't buy this video. It's completely unwatchable. I am not a member of the MTV generation, and I don't care to have tiny fragments of video which are flashed on the screen and replaced by other tiny fragments of video. This is crap. I think in the theater the performers were in the foreground while a film played simultaneously in the background, but here they just cut back and forth. It's horrible. In fact the whole gimmick is wearing thin for me. I liked the human parts of the annunciation and would have liked them even more if they would just stay on the screen.

The music is supposed to be good for Adams. I don't know. Maybe if I play it without looking, it would be ok. Am I the only one who is getting tired of Peter Sellars, the aging wunderkind of opera? The very stark and abstract La Traviata I liked so much was blessed with a complete lack of distractions. We have a clock face that generally does nothing, a man that just stands around doing nothing and a white stage. No films. No gimmicks. Just people singing and acting. It doesn't get better than this. I want the opera to be about the opera.

Every opera stage isn't populated with the marvelous actors in the Traviata video. Too bad. Nevertheless, I'm never sitting there thinking we should switch away to a film. We're working up the theory that people staging operas today don't really like opera. Have you ever seen any work by Peter Sellars where he wasn't the main thing going on? No, thank you.

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