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MacMillan's The Sacrifice: reviews and tour plans

James MacMillan’s new opera, The Sacrifice, premiered by Welsh National Opera in Cardiff in September, tours the UK over the coming months

For his new opera, The Sacrifice, James MacMillan has worked with award-winning poet and novelist Michael Symmons Roberts. This is the latest in a series of collaborations including Raising Sparks, Parthenogenesis and Quickening. Drawing on The Mabinogion, the ancient collection of Welsh folktales, the opera tells of a ruler’s ultimate sacrifice to safeguard the future of his war-torn, faction-ridden country. The performances are conducted by MacMillan and directed by Katie Mitchell.

Following its successful launch in Cardiff on 22 September and a run of performances at the Wales Millennium Centre, the opera tours to seven cities in the UK over the coming months, arriving finally at Sadler's Wells in London on 26 November. 

"The Sacrifice offers as many thrills as Tosca, as much agony as Peter Grimes, more violence than Elektra and Salome combined and a suspense quotient to rival Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. MacMillan's expertly crafted music has easy-to-identify theme tunes and gut-wrenching climaxes, with a closing tableau of which Verdi himself would have been proud... Michael Symmons Roberts has furnished an excellent libretto, built in half-rhymed couplets that leave acres of space for the music. MacMillan sets the words gratefully, with a central duet for soprano and baritone ("Your heart is my homeland") that is more beautiful than anything in modern opera."
Financial Times

"Here is something rare, a new opera with instant appeal... Michael Symmons Roberts' libretto is verbally crisp and narratively lucid - even without surtitles it would be easy to grasp the basics. MacMillan's score respects the text and is refreshingly well written for the voice."
Daily Telegraph

"...a score of real brilliance... His trump card is that he knows how to write for the voice, and – no less vital – how to accompany it; his ear for balance and texture is superb, and there are many pages in The Sacrifice that were plainly being sung with delight – I'm thinking of the passionate Act II duet for the daughter and her discarded lover, and the delicately ornate soprano aria at the very end, a gem... He uses uncomplicated ingredients – simple chords, long, eloquent string lines – working them into dense combinations or leaving them open. He has great sustaining powers; his polyphonies really work through and take the ear with them."
The Independent

"...the applause at the end was as warm as any I've heard for a new commission. For MacMillan has created a modern opera for people who dislike modern opera... Few operas enjoy premieres as well-executed as this."
Independent on Sunday

"...there are wonderful passages: a ravishing love duet underpinned by gorgeously folksy orchestration; Verdi-like declamations for the warlords; a choral threnody that summons the anguished modes of Eastern Europe to haunting effect; and a breathtakingly sonorous choral finale."
The Times

Read an interview with James MacMillan about The Sacrifice.

Tour schedule:

16 October, 7.15 pm
Empire Theatre, Liverpool

24 October, 7.15 pm
The Mayflower, Southampton

31 October, 7.15 pm
Venue Cymru, Llandudno

7 November, 7.15 pm
Hippodrome, Bristol

14 November, 7.15 pm
New Theatre, Oxford

21 November, 7.15 pm
Hippodrome, Birmingham

26 November, 7.30 pm
Sadler’s Wells, London

MacMillan has extracted three interludes from the opera to form a 20-minute symphonic suite which he will conduct at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 22 February with the BBC Philharmonic.

Further MacMillan premieres in 2008 include the full-evening St John Passion performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Colin Davis (27 April), and a new work for the Takács Quartet to be premiered at the South Bank Centre (21 May).

>  Further information on Work: The Sacrifice

Photo: Welsh National Opera / Catherine Ashmore

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