Opera Scotland

Lighthouse The Lighthouse

Music

Peter Maxwell Davies (born Manchester, 8 September 1934).

Text

The composer

Source

Derived from an historical event.

 

Premières

First performance: Edinburgh (Moray House Gymnasium), 2 September 1980.

First Performance in UK: As above.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has spent most of his adult life on Orkney, and much of his music composed there has been inspired or influenced by the bleak but beautiful northern land and seascapes.

Based on a true story, The Lighthouse is a chamber opera in a prologue and one act, employing a trio of singers. It concerns the disappearance of the three men manning a lighthouse off the coast of Scotland, and presents an effectively nightmarish and atmospheric drama.

The Lighthouse was commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival, and was the first of what was intended to be a series of important new works, resulting from an enlightened new sponsorship agreement with Tennent Caledonian Ltd. As with many such arrangements, it did not continue as long as hoped. Fortunately, the opera was not only an immediate success, but has gone on to be performed far and wide - arguably the most notable "Scottish" opera of recent times.

 

Characters

Officer 1 & Sandy (tenor)

Officer 2 & Blazes (baritone)

Officer 3, Arthur & Voice (bass)

 

Plot Summary

In December 1900, a lighthouse supply ship on a routine trip to the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides found the lighthouse in perfect working order, but deserted. No trace was ever found of the three crewmen, and the sensational event became the subject of much speculation.

The prologue represents the Court of Enquiry that followed. A solo horn interrogates the witnesses in turn as a sense of reined-in hysteria develops.

The main drama takes place on the lighthouse, where the men, isolated for months, have developed tense and edgy relationships. They sing in turn, revealing their individual characteristics, but not ameliorating the situation. As fog shrouds the lighthouse, the tension rises, and the men imagine the presence of ghosts from their past lives. Eventually Arthur is convinced that some devilish Beast has appeared. The dazzking lights are not the Beast's eyes, but the lights of the approaching supply ship. Three of its crew burst in to the now deserted living quarters.

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