Peter Maxwell Davies (b.1934) - The Lighthouse (Act 1)
Recorded live on: 12th March 2009
Duration: 27 minutes - Act 1 / 47 minutes - Act 2
About The Lighthouse
by Peter Maxwell Davies
The original inspiration of this work came from reading Craig Mair's book on the Stevenson family of Edinburgh. This family, apart from producing the famous author Robert Louis, produced several generations of lighthouse and harbour engineers. In December 1900 the lighthouse and harbour supply ship Hesperus based in Stromness, Orkney, went on its routine tour of duty to the Flannan Isles light in the Outer Hebrides. The lighthouse was empty - all three beds and the table looked as if they had been left in a hurry, and the lamp, though out, was in perfect working order, but the men had disappeared into thin air.
There have been many speculations as to how and why the three keepers disappeared. This opera does not offer a solution to the mystery, but indicates what might be possible under the tense circumstances of three men being marooned in a storm-bound lighthouse long after the time they expected to be relieved.
The work consists of a prologue and one act. The Prologue presents the Court of Inquiry in Edinburgh into the disappearance of the keepers. The three protagonists play the part of the three officers of the lighthouse ship, the action moving between the courtroom, the ship, and the lighthouse itself, and the inquiry is conducted by the horn of the orchestra, to whose wordless questions the protagonists answer, making the questions retrospectively clear. The Court reaches an open verdict. At the end of the Prologue the three officers together tell us that the lighthouse is now automatic and the building is abandoned and sealed up, while the lighthouse itself flashes its automatic signal to a rhythm which is reflected in the orchestra.
The main act itself bears the sub-title The Cry of the Beast. The scene is set inside the lighthouse with the three keepers at a table in a state of edginess with each other. Arthur is a bible-thumping religious zealot, constantly at loggerheads with Blazes who has no truck with his hypocrisy. The third keeper, Sandy, trues peace-making moves to keep them apart. When Arthur leaves the table and goes aloft to light the lantern, Sandy and Blazes have a game of crib. They quarrel over this, and when Arthur returns, the atmosphere becomes extremely tense. Sandy suggests that Blazes should sing a cheerful song to help break this tension. This Blazes does, followed by Sandy and Arthur. Each song, though light and superficial on the surface, might be taken as an indication - Blazes sings a jolly song about an adolescent's career of crime in city slums leading to murder and the death of his parents. Sandy sings a love song, which when taken up and accompanied by the other two keepers, takes on a new meaning suggesting that his love-life might not have been as innocent as would at first appear. Arthur sings a holy-roller rabble-rousing ditty about God's revenge on the Children of Israel for worshipping the Golden Calf - a projection into God's will and bible history of his own boundless and unexpressed aggression.
Subsequently, the atmosphere turns chill - fog swirls about the lighthouse and Arthur starts the foghorn with the words "the cry of the Beast across the sleeping world - one night that cry will be answered from the deep".
From the mists, ghosts from the past of the three keepers emerge to take their revenge - they might be directly from the songs each keeper sang if these were taken as personal revelations. These ghosts, which we do not see but which the keepers persuade each other are visible, drive them into a state of such guilty desperation that they become crazed. The ghosts call upon Blazes and Sandy to go out with them into the night.
When Arthur comes down from the lightroom he is convinced that the Beast has called across the sea - the Golden Calf has come to claim his servants. The eyes of the Beast dazzle. Calling upon God's help, bellowing a hymn, the three keepers move out to defend themselves against the spirit, which they know see as the Antichrist.
At the climax of the storm and the brightest point of the light from the eyes of the beast, the keepers are replaced by the three officers from the lighthouse ship - played by the same three singers, and the light of the approaching Beast is seen perhaps to have been the light of the lighthouse ship.
From the remarks of the ship's officer, the exact nature of the lighthouse keepers' disappearance is open to interpretation, as is, indeed, whether the officers are trying to persuade themselves that some truth they fear is not so, or perhaps they are trying to cover something up.
When the relief keepers enter the lighthouse, although they are not seen very clearly, it is more that possible that they are the same three we saw at the opening of the scene. But, as the lighthouse is seen to flash its "automatic" signal, there is a further possibility that we have been watching a play of ghosts in a lighthouse abandoned and boarded up for eighty years.
The structure is based on the Tower of the Tarot, whose number symbolism is present in the structure of all the music, and which erupts into the surface of the opera in the form of the words sung by Arthur during the card game representing the Voice of the Cards, which on this level transforms the game of crib into a play of fate with Tarot cards, summoning up all the power of their baleful influence. The work makes extraordinary demands on the singing and acting capacities of the three protagonists, and demands extreme virtuosity from a small band.
Peter Maxwell Davies ©
Etienne Siebens conductor
Etienne Siebens has risen to international musical prominence in less than five years, conducting some extraordinary concerts and operas that has put him at the heart of the European contemporary musical scene. He has worked very closely with a range of today's leading such composers and conducted Psappha in the performances and acclaimed CD of Maxwell Davies's Mr Emmet Takes a Walk. He studied conducting under Lucas Vis, Hiroyuki Iwaki and Jorma Panula. In 2001 he was appointed guest conductor with the Flemish Radio Orchestra. In 2002 he conducted the Holland Festival production of Karkas by De Bondt. Sinfonietta Amsterdam invited him to perform in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. He also gave a series of concerts with the Nederlands Blazersensemble including Andriessen's De Staat; with Asko/Schönberg Ensemble in Harrison Birtwistle's Theseus Game in the Concertgebouw; in Klangforum Wien during the Festival Wien Modern, concert and the world premiere of an opera by Luca Francesconi. He has since been invited to conduct concerts with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Residentie Orchestra Den Haag, MusikFabrik, Klangforum Wien, Psappha, Sinfonietta Amsterdam, the Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra, Dutch Radio Symphony Orchestra, Flanders Symphony Orchestra, L'Orchestre de l'opera de Rouen and Ghent's Collegium Vocale, He is the Artistic Director of the Prometheus Ensemble and since 2004 chief conductor of the Flemisch Symphony Orchestra.
Elaine Tyler-Hall director
Elaine Tyler-Hall, director and choreographer, works full-time as a staff director for English National Opera. For ENO she has directed revivals of The Cunning Little Vixen, Orpheus and Eurydice, The Fairy Queen, Rigoletto and Tosca in London, and also travelled with Orpheus and Eurydice to New York City Opera and with The Cunning Little Vixen to La Fenice Venice, La Scala Milan and Teatro de la Maestranza Seville. Recent freelance work has included directing and choreographing The Soldier's Tale and Vesalii Icones for Psappha, and choreographing The Greek Passion (ROH Covent Garden) and Benvenuto Cellini (Zurich). She choreographed and assisted on the world première of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's Mr Emmet Takes a Walk for Psappha, which she restaged for the Kammeroper Vienna, and where she directed La finta giardiniera. In the past year, as well as her work for ENO, she has directed and choreographed Eugene Onegin for Riverside Opera, restaged Robert Carsen's Semele in Zurich and directed a new production of Into the Woods for Northumbria University. Future plans include a new production of La Traviata for Riverside Opera and Orpheus and Eurydice for Blackheath Halls.
Aaron Marsden designer
After graduating in design from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia, Aaron Marsden went to work at Bazmark Inq where he assisted Catherine Martin on several projects. On the strength of this collaboration he went on to work on the set design for the film Moulin Rouge directed by Baz Luhrmann.He moved to London in 2000 and recent credits include La Bohème (Blackheath Halls); Truckstop on the Edinburgh Festival Frine (and on tour); Eugene Onegin for Riverside Operae; Hauptmann's The Beaver Coat at the Finborough Theatre; Steam; Black & White Sextet and I'm An Asylum Seeker...Get Me Into Here. Additional design work includes an illustrated poem for the programme for Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House; an opening night party and theme park for Fox Studios Australia; and the launch at the Louvre of Collette Dinnigan's spring/summer fashion collection. Future projects include La Traviata (Riverside Opera); Orpheus and Eurydice (Blackheath Halls)
Marc Rosette lighting designer
Marc Rosetti has been working in opera for over 10 years at both the Royal Opera and English National Opera. OH and ENO. His extensive career has taken him across the UK and Europe in the operatic, theatrical and corporate worlds. Recent design credits include La Bohème (Blackheath Concert Halls), Double Tongue (Old Red Lion, European tour). Handel in London, The Magic Flute (ENO Baylis), Time of My Life, Just Between Ourselves, Waiting for Mickey (Theatr Colwyn) and ThreepennyOpera (Albany).
James Oxley tenor Sandy
James Oxley studied as a cellist at the Royal College of Music and later gained a scholarship to Oxford where he read music. He subsequently developed his singing, studying privately with Rudolf Piernay, going on to win several major competitions. He is currently Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music. Notable UK concert credits include Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with Heinrich Schiff and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stravinsky's Renard with Psappha at the BBC Proms, Haydn's Creation and Mozart's Great C major Mass with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Handel's Alexander Feast with Northern Sinfonia and Nicholas McGegan. His engagements have taken him throughout Europe, especially to France where he has worked with Philippe Herreweghe, Hervé Niquet and Christophe Rousset. Other engagements have taken him to San Francisco, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong and Singapore. His opera appearances range from Monteverdi for ENO, Strauss for Garsington and Britten and Mozart for New Kent Opera to Purcell at the Opéra Comique de Paris, Mozart at the Spoleto Festival and Handel for the Covent Garden Festival. He appears regularly at the Opera de Rennes and more recently has sung Bernstein Candide and Wagner The Flying Dutchman for Opera de Rouen. Future plans include concerts with Northern Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Krakow Philharmonic as well as Holst's Savitri in Berlin and Israel in Egypt throughout France and Belgium and at King's College Cambridge and the Three Choirs Festival.
Damian Thantrey baritone Blazes
Damian Thantrey read law at Cambridge University before training at the RCM with Margaret Kingsley. On leaving the RCM, Damian received the Tagore Gold Medal and held the Mills Williams Junior Fellowship. He is continuing his studies with Paul Farrington. In 2008 he appeared in A Night at the Chinese Opera for Scottish Opera, Gong Confucius Says for the Hackney Music Development Trust and The Cumnor Affair for Tete-a-Tete, as well as giving a solo recital at Pollok House, Glasgow, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau. Operatic highlights for 2007 included The English Clerk in Death in Venice at the Aldeburgh and Bregenz Festivals (to be reprised in 2009 at Opéra de Lyon, Pastore in Orfeo for Opera North and Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus for Scottish Opera, as well as a series of roles in Tete-a-Tete's Blind Date. Other recent roles have taken him to the Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, Theatre de Metz, and Garsington Opera. He appeared in Candide for Graham Vick's City of Birmingham Opera, and The Martyrdom of St. Magnus and a concert performance of Dido & Aeneas at the Oslo Kammermusik Festival. He has taken part in over 30 operatic and concert premieres including at Linbury Studio/ROH 2 and for Almeida Opera. He also has an extensive solo concert repertoire and has given a number of solo recitals in leading venues and festivals.
Jonathan Best bass-baritone Arthur
Jonathan Best studied at St John's College' Cambridge and at the Guildhall School of Music. He made his operatic debut in 1983 with Welsh National Opera' and has since sung with all the major British Opera companies.Engagements abroad include appearances at the Salzburg Festival' Maggio Musicale-Florence' Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie' Le Chatelet in Paris and in New York. He appears regularly in concert throughout the United Kingdom and abroad' has appeared at the BBC Proms and has made many recordings for both television and radio. Recent roles have taken him to include Glyndebourne' English National Opera and at the BBC Proms' Opera North' Buxton Festival' Grange Park and Garsington and he appeared with Psappha in the world premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies's opera Mr Emmet Takes a Walk. Recent engagements abroad include Netherlands Opera' Strasbourg' Teatro Sao Carlo' Lisbon' Israel and the Brooklyn Academy of Music' USA. Recent UK engagements include Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Covent Garden' Kramer in Tangier Tattoo with Glyndebourne on Tour' Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro at Opera North, Leone in Tamerlano with Scottish Opera, and Foreman of the Mill in Jenufa at Opera Holland Park as well as Ralph in The Fair Maid of Perth' Walter Raleigh in Roberto Devereux, Oscar in Bluebeard, Pancratius in The Poacher and Harapha in Samson all at Buxton Opera Festival. Current and future plans include Uberto in La Serva Padrona with the Gabrieli Consort touring Norway' Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Garsington Opera and Gubetta in Lucrezia Borgia and Sancho Panza in Die Hochzeit des Camacho both at the 2009 Buxton Festival.
Specialising in the performance of music by living composers and that of the 20th and 21st centuries, Psappha was formed in 1991 by its Artistic Director Tim Williams. The ensemble has an extensive and exceptionally varied repertoire of hundreds of works and a reputation for technical assurance and interpretive flair. It won the Manchester Evening News Award for Opera in 2000 and has been shortlisted for a prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society award on two occasions.
Psappha has commissioned and premiered many works by a wide range of composers including the award-winning music-theatre work, Mr Emmet Takes a Walk, by its Patron Peter Maxwell Davies, released on the ensembles own label.
Psappha has appeared throughout the UK, at most of the country's major music festivals, including the BBC Proms, in special Henze and Maxwell Davies portrait series in London's South Bank, and in a residency at the St. Magnus Festival, Orkney in 2009. It has made highly successful tours to North and South America, Australia, Belgium, France, Holland, Ireland, Jersey, Portugal and Spain. In addition to six recordings on various labels, it launched its own CD label in 2004 with Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King and Miss Donnithorne's Maggot.
Psappha is developing its online presence with a number of concerts available to view as webcasts and also the development of a major online resource for 12 - 18 year olds. Education projects for people of all ages represent an important part of Psappha's schedule both in the UK and abroad. It was awarded the Swatch City Life Award for Best Concert Series and Education Work and is currently The University of Manchester's Contemporary Ensemble in Association.
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