General Manager of Met Opera Competes with Trump

Preivew of John Adams' El Nino at Works & Process

By: - Apr 04, 2024

John Adams’ masterpiece Oratorio, El Nino, is being given a full production at the Metropolitan Opera this spring.  

The work premiered at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2000.  Kent Nagano conducted.  Luxury casting included Dawn Upshaw, Lorrraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White.

Later Peter Sellars, who collaborated with Adams on El Nino, discovered soprano Julia Bullock, and whisked her off to Madrid where she made a stunning debut in a Purcell opera. Bullock had studied with Dawn Upshaw and is a legitimate heir to the role of Mary.  

American Modern Opera Company and Julia Bullock, an Adams’ favorite, persuaded the Metropolitan Museum to do an abbreviated version of El  Nino, stunning at the Cloisters.  This version is now an annual event at St John the Divine.  

General Manager Peter Gelb gathered production principals for the Met’s mounting of the Oratorio at a program which was part of the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series. Star singers performed. The conductor Marin Alsop, making her Met debut, spoke about Adam’s music.  Adam’s commented on the work through film. 

El Nino is a nativity story, told from a woman’s perspective. Adams talked about being inspired by Handel’s Messiah. The Los Angeles Philharmonic programmed the two works in succession.

General Manager Peter Gelb opened with a joke: He claims to be competing for the Christ franchise with Donald Trump, who has recently described his tribulations as Christ-like.

The Met General Manager has hired talent tested by his next door neighbor, Lincoln Center Theater (LCT).  Bartlett Sher came from that venue and has had mixed results as an opera director.  Now we have Lileana Blain-Cruz, an LCT director, taking on El Nino. Large swaths of the audience left her recent direction of Skin of Our Teeth as soon as they could.

We saw snippets of the set for El Nino. The drawings were kool-aide colorful. Davone Tines, singing the principal baritone role in his Met debut, reported that the production is large.  Very large.  Do works like Verdi’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah require large productions to succeed, or does this attempt at dramatization obscure magnificent music?  

Only conductor Marin Alsop spoke about the music. She performs Adams often.  Whether or not this work succeeds relies now on her.  

We got a taste of the singing talent: Bullock and J’nai Bridges (in the Lorraine Hunt Leiberson role).  We also heard the splendid Davone Tines. Yet these first-rate singers may not be able to salvage the Met’s aggrandizement of the already grand El  Nino.