Monday, February 11, 2013

Clemency, a one act opera of about an hour's duration by Scottish composer James MacMillan, was co-commissioned by the Boston Lyric Opera and a handfull of companies in the UK.  The U.S. premiere was in Boston last Wednesday night.  The plot springs off the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar in the Old Testament.  As Sarah hasn't borne any children, she suggests Abraham have sex with the servant Hagar to produce a child that Sarah can then take from her to be Abraham's heir.  The child is Ishmael.  Three angels arrive, are entertained at Abraham's place and reveal that, Sarah (who in 99 years old) will bear a child.  The child is Issac.  Sarah doesn't want Ishmael around as a rival to her own son as heir, so Hagar and Ishmael are driven away into the desert.  

All this cruelty and dishonesty is apparently just fine with Jehovah/Yahweh/G*d.  The angels turn out to be on their way to smite Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham pleads for clemency for the cities should as few as five virtuous people be found there -- clemency he somehow isn't able to show to Hagar whom he has exploited sexually and then thrown out. 

The opera was preceded by a performance of what is apparently Franz Schubert's earliest surviving song, Hagar's Lament, in which she wanders the desert desperate for water for her dying son.  An angel (they seem to be everywhere) leads her to a well and her child is saved.  The opera begins as soon as the song (actually a fifteen minute mini-drama) ends, joined to Clemency without any pause.  I wonder if this is the way it was premiered in England.  Hagar and her story cast a shadow on Abraham and Sarah for me.  If the song was not part of MacMillan's plan, then Abraham's pleas for clemency would have had a lot more moral weight, at least for me.  

I first encountered Mr.  MacMillan's music via CDs of his full length opera The Sacrifice, a strongly dramatic piece with a fine score that I liked very much.  I also liked the score of Clemency (which is being recorded live during the Boston run for commercial release).  Aside from the Hagar, who was dramatic but rather strenuous vocally with wild top notes, the singing was superb.  The three angels, sing in unison and were superb (two of them will appear in our company's performances of Benjamin Britten's The Prodigal Son in April).  Christine Abraham was eloquent as Sarah and David Kravitz, who will sing Governor Winthrop next January in the opera for which Fritz and I have just finished the libretto, was tremendous -- thrilling -- as Abraham.  The chamber orchestra sounded great as conducted by David Angus in MacMillan's compelling music.

A bonus for me was that the composer turned out to be sitting directly across the aisle from me.  When the performance ended, I got to have a short but very pleasant chat with him, mentioning my regard for The Sacrifice.  He was extremely nice and I hope we hear more of his music on this side of the Atlantic soon.

We had an historic storm in New England last Friday and Saturday with more snow than any other single storm since 1888.  Here are some images:  the hot tub;

the solar panels behind the raised garden beds on the hillside behind the house;

my car, grown to enormous proportions and quite beautifully sculpted by the winds;

the view from the front door of the cityscape sculpture and the shed down behind.

But inside, one of Fritz's amaryllis was in full bloom.  He has also tried an experiment this winter, growing tomatoes in the house in our sun-flooded south windows.  One plant is already over three feet tall and has put out flower buds that haven't quite opened yet.  I don't know if it's hot enough in the windows for tomatoes to set fruit, but I like his experiments very much and am hoping this one works.

Glad you got to chat with J MacM - a very considered, natural chap in conversation. Not quite comfortable with his militant catholicism, but though he writes like a born preacher, he doesn't seem to foist it on folk when he lectures or talks.
Just read your comment on PoApBo on Franco Zeffirelli. I know you'll just think I'm trying to turn your head, but there really is nothing like the style and substance of your remarks!
By the way, did you take the top photo (the others are splendid, of course)? It's the best I've seen of him - he usually looks so serious, as he did in the pics I took after his Southbank lecture.
No, David, I nicked it off the web, thinking that of all the pictures of him that I found there, this was the one that looked most like the smiling, cordial man who seemed very happy with the performance of his opera he'd just heard.
Way to much cold for me!
I sorely miss snowstorms like this. I love them.
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