Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse is a ghost story based on an actual event. The contemporary chamber opera, first performed in 1980, tells the story of the disappearance of three lighthouse workers from the Fladda Isle Lighthouse off the coast of Scotland in 1900. The mystery of what happened to these men survives to this day. They have never been found.
The score is, in a word, spooky. It is also very complex.
In a 1983 New York Times article that coincided with the U.S. premiere of The Lighthouse, Davies' composition was described like this: "Mr. Davies’s musical idiom is dramatically responsive and harmonically tart…interspersed with songs and effects culled from disparate earlier styles."
A creaky out-of-tune piano is called for in the 12-person orchestra. A banjo is also used, along with a police whistle and maracas, in addition to more traditional instruments like violin and flute. A more recent article about The Lighthouse from the New York Times reads that Davies’ music "builds and recedes like an abstraction from the sea: alternately calm and rhythmically edgy, with ripping horns and growling low strings, a piccolo softly keening like a rocking buoy."
In this video, we hear more about the music, which is difficult to sing as well as to play.
Appearing in "A FOUR OCTAVE RANGE": Guest conductor Nicole Paiement (Artistic Director of Ensemble Parallèle), pianist Michael Heaston and the three performers in this production: Robert Orth, Daniel Sumegi and Andrew Bidlack.
Special note: Due to standard American Federation of Musicians requirements, the entirety of the "Behind the Curtain: The Lighthouse" series features three minutes total of the orchestra playing. We are very happy to announce that an upcoming video will feature a dress rehearsal of The Lighthouse. In order to bring you as much of the dress rehearsal as possible, we have chosen leave an orchestra segment out of this video and instead focus on the singers. To hear more of the orchestra, you can watch THE PIT SAGA video, which was in Part 1 of this special series.
Videos produced and edited by Emily Trube and Eric Shaddix, along with Michael Warner. Interviews conducted by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs.
Pictured on the cover: Composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Photo by Martin Lengemann.
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs' feature about the project is here.
Keith Cerny's Off the Cuff column about creating new opera is here.