The Bible’s pages have supplied blood-and-glory stories not only for racy Hollywood epics, but also for numerous popular operas. Saint-Saens’s sexy “Samson and Delilah” and Richard Strauss’s head-hunting “Salome” immediately come to mind. For its upcoming Opera Annex production, Boston Lyric Opera is presenting a biblical adaptation of a different sort, composed by Scottish composer James MacMillan to a libretto by poet Michael Symmons Roberts. Drawn from Genesis, the opening book of the Old Testament, “Clemency” explores provocative moral issues of vengeance and forgiveness that continue to resonate loudly today.
In Chapter 18 of Genesis, the elderly Abraham and his wife, Sarah, provide hospitality to three mysterious travelers. Having gratefully received food and drink, the visitors (avenging angels) tell Abraham that his previously barren Sarah will soon bear a son. She laughs at the prophecy, but it will come to pass with the birth of Isaac. The visitors have come to wreak divine vengeance on the sinful nearby twin towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham shows them the way, but then engages in an impassioned dialogue with God, begging for clemency, arguing that the cities should be spared for the sake of the few righteous people — even if only 10 — living there.