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James MacMillan's Clemency, his new one-act opera blending biblical and contemporary themes, is staged by Katie Mitchell at The Royal Opera in London on 6 May.

James MacMillan's new one-act opera Clemency, his latest collaboration with award-winning poet Michael Symmons Roberts, is premiered at The Royal Opera's Linbury Studio Theatre in London on 6 May with further performances on 7/9/11/12/14 May. The production by Katie Mitchell follows her successful stagings of MacMillan's The Sacrifice for Welsh National Opera in 2005 and Parthenogenesis at The Royal Opera in 2009. The Britten Sinfonia, which has worked closely with MacMillan in recent years including the premiere of his recent Oboe Concerto, provides the orchestra for Clemency with Clark Rundell as conductor.

The new 50-minute opera is an ROH2 production, co-produced with Scottish Opera and co-commissioned by Scottish Opera, Britten Sinfonia and Boston Lyric Opera. Further performances of Clemency are scheduled in Scotland in summer 2012 and the US premiere follows in a future season. The cast in London includes Janis Kelly as Sarah, Grant Doyle as Abraham, and Andrew Tortise, Eamonn Mulhall and Adam Green as the three travellers.

Librettist Michael Symmons Roberts relates how "the starting point for the opera comes from a rather obscure and strange story from the book of Genesis, known as The Hospitality of Abraham. As we did with The Sacrifice (and its Mabinogion roots) for Welsh National Opera, we began here with the psychological drama of an ancient story and then took some liberties. It is, essentially, about vengeance and mercy, and there is no sign that the world has finished fighting over those ideas."

James MacMillan describes how "Michael and I seem to enjoy working on mythic tales for opera, which we then mould into a timeless setting which could be equally valid in our own time. We did this in The Sacrifice and now we approach the Abraham and Sarah story from Genesis in the same way. We wanted to write a short one-act chamber opera with only a handful of characters, accompanied by a string orchestra. Clemency has five singers, and we imagined a flexibility in potential stagings. We are delighted that Katie Mitchell, who has collaborated with us before, will bring her own vision to the piece."

Abraham and Sarah are childless and approaching the end of their lives. They are visited by three travellers carrying heavy bags and hospitality is offered. The strangers bear the surprising news that Sarah will have a child in old age and she reacts with laughter. The mood darkens as it becomes clear that the travellers are on a mission of vengeance upon the neighbouring towns. The bags they carry contain weapons and Abraham pleads for clemency.

Further MacMillan performance highlights over the coming months include the world premiere of his Piano Concerto No.3 in Minneapolis with Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä (14 April), the opening concert of the Bath Festival including Piano Concerto No.2 with Joanna MacGregor and the Britten Sinfonia (25 May), the Swedish premiere of Symphony No.3: Silence with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (26 May) and the French premiere of his Violin Concerto in Montpellier with Vadim Repin as soloist and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris (22 July).

>  Further information on Work: Clemency

Photo: Philip Gatward

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