Clemency (2009-10)Duration: 45 minutes
Chamber opera for 5 singers and string orchestra
Anon; Michael Symmons Roberts (E); glossolalia
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
Katie Mitchell, director
Conductor: Clark Rundell
Company: ROH2 / Britten Sinfonia
Abraham and Sarah are old, childless and approaching the end of their lives. They are visited one hot afternoon by three identically dressed travellers, who are tired and hot, carrying heavy bags. Abraham and Sarah offer them food and drink, and shade under their oak trees. As they sit down to eat and drink, the three men (who often speak in unison) say some unsettling things. They already seem to know Abraham and Sarah's names, and who they are. Even odder, they predict that they will be passing this way in a year’s time, and Sarah will have a child.
Sarah laughs when she hears this, because she and Abraham are geriatric! But the three men get angry when challenged, and Sarah and Abraham begin to feel seriously alarmed by these visitors and want them to leave. As the visitors finish their food and get up to go, Sarah asks them where they are heading, and they point to the twin towns down by the lake. They then let slip that their business in those cities may be a mission of vengeance, and Abraham and Sarah begin to realise the bags they are carrying contain weapons.
Horrified by what is about to happen, Abraham and Sarah try to talk the men out of their violent mission, but the three men just list the crimes (murder, lawlessness, injustice, xenophobia) committed in these towns, and the need for vengeance. Abraham and Sarah wonder if they are vigilantes, or angels, sent by an angry God? Either way, Abraham and Sarah want to stop them, and try to defend the towns. They dispute with the three men, standing in front of them as they try to leave, arguing that there are good people in the towns who would be killed too. This develops into a fast-talking negotiation, with Abraham pleading with them not to destroy the towns if they find fifty good people there, then forty, then twenty-five, etc.
These arguments half-succeed, and the men agree that if they find as few as five good citizens, they will not destroy the towns. But the men push past Abraham and Sarah before they can persuade them to drop the whole mission, so the three assassins head to the towns on a mission of vengeance.
Michael Symmons Roberts, 2011
History, Magic/Mystery, Mythology, Religion