Abraham: David Kravitz, baritone Hagar: Michelle Trainor, soprano Sarah: Christine Abraham soprano Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra / David Angus
James MacMillan (b. 1959): Clemency – a chamber opera for five singers and string orchestra (Libretto: Michael Symmons Roberts) as performed by Boston Lyric Opera with the inclusion of Hagar’s Lament by Franz Schubert, performed in an English translation and orchestration by David Angus
Clemency is the third operatic collaboration between the composer James MacMillan and the poet Michael Symmons Roberts to date – a chamber opera which explores a central but enigmatic episode in the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah are visited by three mysterious strangers giving them the joyous information that Sarah will bear a child, but also letting them know of their intention to destroy the neighbouring towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. The composer himself has commented that Clemency is set in the present day and ‘is not intended as a Biblical drama in the old Hollywood style. Abraham and Sarah are modern people and they’re visited by three strange but modern figures who, it turns out, have something terroristic about them. There is something of the ancient and the modern in the piece; the ancient, Biblical tale but also the kinds of thing people face today in many parts of the world.’ Composed in 2009-10, Clemency was commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera, together with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Scottish Opera and Britten Sinfonia. For the first U.S. production of the one-act work, Boston Lyric Opera decided, with the approval of the composer and librettist, to introduce the figure of Hagar, servant to Sarah but also the mother of Abraham’s first child, Ishmael. This is done by incorporating a version of Schubert’s early song Hagar’s Lament as a prelude to this opera which challenges us to measure the impact of our lives in a modern world that continues to be marked politically and spiritually by acts of mercy and acts of vengeance.