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Bullock: Met debut in “El Niño” (April 23–May 17)

(April 2024) — “One of today’s smartest, most arresting vocalists in any genre” (NPR),
Julia Bullock makes her Metropolitan Opera debut this month, headlining the company premiere
of John Adams’s opera-oratorio El Niño (April 23–May 17). This milestone debut follows a
string of successes for the American classical singer, who rang in the new year with an
imaginatively curated, five-city U.S. recital tour that culminated at Carnegie Hall, just weeks
before winning her first Grammy Award with Walking in the Dark, her solo album debut.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer-conductor John Adams is one of Bullock’s most important
musical collaborators. She created the role of Dame Shirley in his opera Girls of the Golden West
and sang the role of Kitty Oppenheimer under his baton on the Grammy-nominated 2018
recording of his opera Doctor Atomic. In an essay for Nonesuch Records’ 2022 release of his
collected works, she explains:

“I’ve probably spent more hours of my life pouring over, analyzing, internalizing, and figuring
out how to deliver his material than I have on any other composer’s music. I’m a fan of John
Adams. I’m a fan of the scope of human experience his music has the capacity to hold. He’s one
of the greats.”

Bullock first fell in love with Adams’s music through his Christmas opera-oratorio, El Niño
(2000). Interweaving sacred and secular texts in English, Spanish, and Latin, ranging from New
Testament Apocrypha to poetry by such prominent 20th-century Latin-American literary figures
as Rosario Castellanos and Gabriela Mistral, El Niño considers the Nativity story from Mary’s
perspective and explores the wonders and tribulations of being a birth parent. Bullock says: “This
work is centered around the fragility of human existence, not human accomplishment. It’s
centered on women, children, and life.”

Today the singer is El Niño’s undisputed face. As artist-in-residence of New York’s Metropolitan
Museum of Art in 2018-19, she devised a new chamber orchestral arrangement of the work with
contributions from her husband, conductor Christian Reif. Alongside colleagues from the
American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), she premiered this distilled rendering of the
opera-oratorio at New York’s Met Cloisters, and has subsequently reprised it as El Niño: Nativity
Reconsidered with the Cincinnati Symphony and on a national AMOC tour. She also features an
aria from El Niño on Walking in the Dark, prompting BBC Music magazine to marvel:

“Bullock’s blazing performance of John Adams’s ‘Memorial de Tlatelolco’, a fiendish aria from
his opera-oratorio El Niño, showcases her exceptional technical and expressive range.”

Now Bullock takes center stage at the Metropolitan Opera, portraying both the Virgin Mary and
the angel Gabriel in the opera-oratorio’s soprano role. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, the
Tony-nominated resident director of Lincoln Center Theater, El Niño’s fully staged new
production is structured around migration stories and addresses such topical concerns as
authoritarian regimes, feminism, and the environment. Co-starring as Joseph, Herod, and God is
Davóne Tines, the bass-baritone who, like Bullock herself, “is changing what it means to be a
classical singer” (New Yorker). At all but two performances, Bullock and Tines will be joined by
Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, reprising the roles in which, at the Met Cloisters,
they convinced the New York Times that “with these three singers, El Niño was in safe hands.”
On May 1 & 4, the trio of principals will instead be completed by Cardiff Singer of the World
finalist Daniela Mack, and, at all performances, MacArthur award winner Marin Alsop will
conduct from the pit (April 23, 27; May 1, 4, 8, 11 & 17).

Recent successes: Grammy win, title role debut, recital tour, and more

Bullock’s upcoming engagements follow a series of recent successes. Released in 2022 on the
Nonesuch label, her solo album debut Walking in the Dark scored the singer a 2024 Grammy
Award for “Best Classical Solo Vocal Album.” The recording has also been recognized with both
Opus Klassik and Edison Klassiek awards, featured in the New York Times’s “Best Classical
Music Tracks of 2022,” and named – alongside offerings from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar –
among the 20 “Best Albums of 2022” by NPR, which called it “an album that shines,
introducing us to an artist curating a career on her own distinctive terms.”

In the European premiere of Adams’s opera Antony & Cleopatra at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del
Liceu last fall, Bullock made her house and title role debuts as the Egyptian queen, a role
written expressly for her, opposite Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley. Pronouncing the opera
a substantial work, … layered and subtle, yielding its riches slowly,” The Guardian praised
the pair for their “convincingly molten chemistry” and found their performances marked by
both “magnificence and charisma.”

By way of a postscript to her 2023 season, Bullock joined a starry lineup in Washington, D.C. last
December to celebrate Renée Fleming, who was recognized alongside Billy Crystal, Dionne
Warwick, Barry Gibb and Queen Latifah as one of five 2023 Kennedy Center Honorees. Together
with Angel Blue, Ailyn Perez, Nadine Sierra and Patrick Summers, Bullock serenaded the soprano
with a performance of “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka. Among those who paid tribute
to the other honorees were Clive Davis, Missy Elliott, Cynthia Erivo, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno,
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Platt, Kerry Washington and Sigourney Weaver.

Most recently, Bullock’s U.S. recital tour took her and pianist Bretton Brown to New York’s Union
College, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, Baltimore’s Shriver Hall, Rhode Island’s Brown University
and New York City’s Carnegie Hall, where, as the New York Classical Review reports, her
characteristically wide-ranging program was “perfectly attuned to the times.” Citing her
probing intellect” and “daunting communicative skills,” the review singled out her
crystalline tone” in songs by Kurt Weill; the “ferocious intensity and a remarkably varied
vocal palette” she brought to Richard Strauss; the “penetrating, unflinching directness” she
revealed in Bob Dylan; and the “most sublime singing” and “vocal magic” she wrought with
Alban Berg, all of which made for “an extraordinary evening of song.”

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Julia Bullock: upcoming engagements

April 23, 27; May 1, 4, 8, 11 & 17
New York, NY
Metropolitan Opera (debut) / Marin Alsop
John ADAMS: El Niño (company premiere)

July 6, 9, 12, 15 & 17
Aix-en-Provence, France
Festival d’Aix-en-Provence
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande

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© 21C Media Group, April 2024

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