The Sacrifice

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: The Sacrifice
PERFORMER: Christopher Purves, Lisa Milne, Peter Hoare, Leigh Melrose, Sarah Tynan, Cameron Jones, Tomos Hardy, Ben Evans, Rosie Hay, Samantha Hay, Amanda Baldwin; WNO Chorus & Orchestra/Anthony Negus
CATALOGUE NO: 10572(2)

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When James MacMillan’s music really works, it manages – almost uniquely today – to combine challenging contemporary freshness with the emotional directness of Mahler, Tchaikovsky or Puccini.

The score of The Sacrifice manages to sustain this difficult balancing heroically right through to the end. On top of that, it fuses effectively with a story that, in addition, intertwines ancient myth with very present international political issues.

But with opera there is always one simple question which, if it can’t be answered adequately, cancels everything else out: why are these words being sung, rather than spoken? So many modern operas fall down at this point – often the vocal lines are the least memorable feature of the whole experience. But here, time and time again, one has that experience where a vocal phrase takes off and something in the pit of the stomach lifts with it.

Of course the splendid solo team must take some of the credit for that: Christopher Purves’s anguished but dignified General, Lisa Milne’s noble but tragically duty-bound Sian, and Sarah Tynan’s weirdly touching Megan stand out, but there are no weak performances.

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The chorus, and particularly the orchestra of Welsh National Opera are magnificently on top of the music. This production, recorded live in remarkably clear sound with very little distracting noise, has a sustained urgency, which nevertheless allows time for the more inward moments to open out expressively. Recommended. Stephen Johnson