Presenting the Past in John Adams's El Niño

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemera


The nascent scholarship of medievalism studies in musicology has expanded significantly over the last decade. New theoretical frameworks have been developed that are more applicable to contemporary music, especially staged works that engage with representations of the historicised past. One of the many pieces requiring critical attention in light of these developments is John Adams and Peter Sellars’ opera-oratorio El Niño (2000), which features a libretto that Adams and Sellars constructed by assembling textual sources that date from the 12th–20th centuries. Adams and Sellars emphasize the premodern elements of this work in their portrayal of key themes of gender, race, and spirituality, as do subsequent productions by John La Bouchadiere (2014) and Julia Bullock (2018). Thus, an analysis of El Niño and its significant productions serve as an excellent case study to explore the medievalism that characterizes many staged works at the turn of the 21st century.

My research establishes El Niño as a work of its time, deeply invested in the cultural and political discourse of the Western world at the turn of the 21st century. As is typical in many staged works from this period, in El Niño, medievalism functions to construct turn-of-the-century gendered, racial, and spiritual values through the evocation of cultural concepts from the historicized past. This research contributes to the growing literature on medievalism and contemporary staged works and will be a significant addition to the scholarship of this major work by John Adams.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 9 Dec 2021
Event44th National Conference of the Musicological Society of Australia - Virtual, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 9 Dec 202111 Dec 2021


Conference44th National Conference of the Musicological Society of Australia
Internet address


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