* Notes *
John Adams is conducting his nativity oratorio El Niño at San Francisco Symphony this week as part of Project San Francisco. The work was modestly staged, with direction from Kevin Newbury, set from Daniel Hubp, costumes from Paul Carey, and lighting from Kirk Bookman. The most charming bit might have been the Charlie Brown Christmas tree downstage for the second half. Adams kept time impressively, but for the most part had an introverted conducting style. Much amplification was used and the overall effect was richly textural and rather loud.
The chorus sounded pretty, but did not always seem together. It was especially difficult to discern what they were singing in the beginning. The soloists were amplified, so did not have to contend with being lost under the rest of the music. The trio of countertenors did sound angelic, as did the San Francisco Girls Chorus that came in at the end. Bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu seemed to have a good heft to his voice. His sibilants were somewhat whistled. Mezzo Michelle DeYoung created a pleasant, pewter-like sound. Soprano Dawn Upshaw was bright and also very lovely. Everyone sounded so comfortable singing in English that when they occasionally switched to Spanish, it was noticeably stilted. There were small errors in Spanish pronunciation, initial voiceless stops were aspirated and some vowels were not clear.
* Tattling *
There was light talking in the first half, but the most of the offenders left at intermission so that the audience was unusually quiet for the second part.