It is many years since Scottish Opera last performed a piece by MacMillan, and Clemency is a comparatively small-scale work. However it deals with significant issues and provides a highly-concentrated three-quarters of an hour. In the past decade, Katie Mitchell has directed many highly-regarded stagings with ENO and WNO, but this was the first example of her operatic work to be seen in Scotland. The designs of Alex Eales were simply effective - three rooms side by side, kitchen, dining room and study, with the angels restricted to the central area.
At the London première, the work's co-commissioners, the Britten Sinfonia, were conducted by Clark Rundell. In Edinburgh, Scottish Opera forces took over, giving a superbly accomplished performance under Derek Clark. It is hard to fault the standard of delivery by the singers, and the trio of angels made a remarkably unified impression.
A sense of ambivalence remains, however. There is little indication of the extremes of emotion implied by the content. Sarah and Abraham are shown as some fifty years younger than expected, which, together with the modern setting, makes her pregnancy seem less outlandish. The angels seem more restrained than angry, and their preparation for their mission - donning suits and shoulder-holsters, to look like officers of the CIA - seemed a bit mundane. There was little sense of the cut-and-thrust of debate in their altercations with the couple. Somehow the constant sense of detachment seems surprising given MacMillan's usually committed response to dramatic material.
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