The Sacrifice (opera)

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The Sacrifice is an opera in three acts composed by James MacMillan with a libretto by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts based on the Branwen story of the Welsh myth collection, the Mabinogion. The world premiere took place on 22 September 2007 at the Donald Gordon Theatre of the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. The production was staged by Welsh National Opera, directed by Katie Mitchell and conducted by the composer.


The large orchestra consists of 12 First Violins, 10 Second Violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses, 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 5 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani (five drums in total) with a large percussion section for 3 players.

The first percussionist plays glockenspiel, vibraphone (with two double bass bows), triangle, whistle, geophone, whip, tambourine, 1 bodrán, bass drum, 2 Peking gongs.

The second percussionist plays the same glockenspiel as the first percussionist, tubular bells, the same geophone as the first percussionist, 5 wood blocks(graded), anvil, snare drum and suspended cymbal.

The third percussionist plays 2 chromatic octaves of crotales (with two double bass bows), 5 tuned gongs (one large, three medium and one small), güiro, vibraslap, 1 metal sheet, tenor drum, a pair of crash cymbals and tam-tam.

Also required are harp, electric piano and onstage two tambourines and an electric guitar.



"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


MacMillan extracted material from the opera to create a piece for orchestra, Three Interludes from 'The Sacrifice'. The sections are called "The Parting", "Passacaglia", and "The Investiture".[1] At the U.S. premiere on August 15, 2009, by the Cabrillo Music Festival Orchestra under Marin Alsop. The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra recorded the work under MacMillan's direction.[2]


  1. ^ Kirzinger, Robert. "James MacMillan: Three Interludes from "The Sacrifice"". Boston Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  2. ^ "Program notes: November 29, 2012". Boston Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 28 November 2012.