Libretto by Michael Symmons Roberts, based on a story from the Mabinogion (E)
Main roles:2S,T,2Bar; 'The Birds' of Rhiannon:2S,M; Dressers:2S,M; plus chorus ('The Birds' and Dressers may be sung by same three singers)
2(I,II=picc).2(II=corA).2(II=bcl).2(II=dbn)-22.214.171.124-timp.perc(3):glsp/vib/tgl/whistle/rainstick/whip/tamb/bodhrán/BD/2Peking gongs/t.bells/5wdbl (graded)/anvil/SD/susp.cym/crot/tuned gongs/guiro/vibraslap/metal bar/TD/crash cyms/tam-t-harp-strings
"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."
"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."
"...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 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."