Sacrifice of Isaac, a chancel opera

Children's and Liturgical Opera Company, LLC
LITURGICAL OPERA: The Sacrifice of Isaac
a chancel opera based on Genesis 18:1-15, 21:67, 22:1-18
by Susan Hulsman Bingham

Maya Coleman as Isaac and Timothy Bingham as Abraham
in a performance of THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC

at St. Martinskirche, Sindelfingen, Germany, February 24, 2001



Abraham (baritone), Sarah (mezzo soprano), God in the form of three Angels (three tenors or three sopranos), Isaac (treble, around age 12)


piano or organ






minimal household materials. Details in score.


based on Genesis 18:1-15, 21:67, 22:1-18; Habakkuk, Psalms




chantlike, spare, with Semitic tonalities


five tiny

  Click here to hear Anthony Lopez, baritone, as Abraham, and Carol Marsh, mezzo soprano, as Sarah.


twenty-eight minutes

  Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, CT, 1980
Scene 1

Sarah prays to God, hopelessly, for a son. Abraham enters, quotes from Psalm 27, and angers her.

Scene 2

God, in the form of three angels, appears to Abraham. Abraham feeds the angels and hears their promise of a son to be born to Sarah. Sarah is listening within her tent and laughs. After God's departure, Sarah believes herself to be alone. She recounts her anger at not having been able to have a child, and feeling God's lingering presence, she admits remorsefully that devotion to Him is what she has really lacked.

Scene 3 one year later

Sarah enters with a baby in her arms. She and Abraham sing a joyful, ironic, funny duet of praise.

Scene 4twelve years later

God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son to Him. Abraham first tries not to hear what God is saying, then bursts into loud pleas for mercy (Psalm 6). Sarah overhears him and is first stricken, then enraged.

Scene 5the following dawn

After a crazed night, Sarah is finally asleep. Abraham steals to Isaac's side and attempts to waken him without disturbing her. He fails. A terrible struggle ensues. Unable to quiet her, Abraham pushes her away and rushes off with Isaac, who asks where the lamb is for the sacrifice.


At the altar of Mount Moriah, Abraham begs God for mercy and contests that what God really wants is a "broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51). Abraham holds Isaac and sings of how, even if God should take everything he has, he will "rejoice in the Lord" (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Abraham clutches Isaac to his breast and raises his knife. At the last moment, his sacrifice is thwarted by the loud cries of the angels. The excited Isaac points toward a ram in the distance, telling his "silly father" that a mistake was almost made. As the two prepare to catch the ram, the angels appear, praise Abraham and deliver God's prophecy.


Composer's comment: As you can imagine, this one is very dramatic. After one service, a woman approached us and said, "What a frightening story! You shouldn't TELL such stories in CHURCH!" Highly recommended, however! We have done this one many times. SHB

Timothy Bingham, tenor, as Abraham, and Maya Coleman, soprano, as Isaac


Musical score: $50. Price includes shipping and handling within the U.S., performing rights, and permission to make sufficient copies for cast and accompanists.

CD of three chancel operas (LEARNING TO PRAY, THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC, RUTH, and A CONVERSATION BETWEEN MARY AND THE ANGEL GABRIEL): $20. Price includes shipping within the U.S. form).

Composer's comment: Great for the Sunday immediately following Easter and usable throughout the year for those who do not need to stick terribly closely to a lectionary. We have done this one more than any other -- with great success. SHB


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