Visually exciting, through Alex Eales’ clever triptych set, and musically engaging with James MacMillan’s hardworking score, this product of Scottish Opera’s five:15 Operas Made in Scotland programme never quite lives up to its promise.
Michael Symmons Roberts’ libretto is based on the bible story from Genesis in which Abraham and Sarah are visited by three strangers. The strangers accept the old couple’s hospitality and, before leaving, reveal that they are in a mission to destroy two nearby towns for their lack of humanity.
There’s no problem in the updating of the setting to modern times. A central room provides a calm and shaded oasis from the outside heat with a gnarled oak growing right into the room. To its left is Sarah’s tiny, basic kitchen. To the right is the reverse view of the main room.
The performances are all there too, starting with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera conducted by Derek Clark, whose soundscape and clarity of tone help the understanding. Janis Kelly is bursting with spirit as Sarah, incredulous when the strangers announce she is pregnant. Grant Doyle is quite the humble host as Abraham - until the strangers announce their true intentions.
As the strangers, Christopher Diffey, Adam Green and Eamonn Mulhall provide a real threat. If they are angels, then they are certainly of the avenging variety, minions of a unforgiving God. There is both power and intricacy in their singing.
Yet, for all its fine presentation, strong performances and articulate construction, this fails to engage on an intellectual level. It feels like a clever fragment, but without the bigger whole from which it came, there is little or no understanding.