Entertainment :: Music

Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Monday Jul 21, 2014
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The music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (b. 1934) has always proven thought-provoking without ever crossing into presumptuousness. Naxos Records has rereleased the premiere recording of his 1979 chamber opera, "The Lighthouse," a tragic ghost story surrounding the possible fate of three lighthouse-keepers at the Flannan Isles lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides.

In December of 1900, a supply ship came upon the lighthouse, only to discover its three occupants missing. The interior is found in clean condition, but clues lead to the possibility that the three men's disappearance is suspicious. Davies fully utilizes the talents of members of the BBC Philharmonic to paint the sonic picture for this chamber opera, composed in a Prologue and one-act. Neil Mackie (tenor), Christopher Keyte (baritone), and Ian Comboy (Bass) play all the roles in Davies work, including the three ship officers who came upon the lighthouse, and who are subsequently under interrogation during the prologue, and the three keepers themselves.

After the case receives an "open verdict" based on its unclear circumstances, the opera shows us the three diverse men, confined to the small lighthouse without relief beyond a reasonable timeframe. Each man sings a song, which may provide a flashlight into his life. Blazes (Keyte) tells a folk tale of murder and the death of his parents; Sandy (Mackie) sings a love song, that shows a perverse hypocrisy in his feelings on the matter; and the bible-following Arthur (Comboy) delivers a hymn about God's revenge on the people of Israel for worshipping the Golden Calf. Ghosts of these melodies begin to haunt the men in the dense fog of their surroundings, causing an insanity that leads to an explanatory scene from the three officers, but the ultimate explanation is vague and left to the interpretation of the listener.

Davies artistically paints the blurry, frightening world of "The Lighthouse," and the three singers masterfully handle both the tonal writing of the three men's songs, and the atonal speak-singing that is prominent throughout much of Davies' composing.


"The Lighthouse"
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
CD and digital formats
Naxos Records

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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