Peter Maxwell Davies - The Lighthouse (part 2)

Recorded live on 12th March 2009. Duration: 27 minutes - Act 1 / 47 minutes - Act 2

About 'The Lighthouse' by Peter Maxwell Davies (continued...)

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

CAST
James Oxley tenor Sandy
Damian Thantrey baritone Blazes
Jonathan Best bass-baritone Arthur

Etienne Siebens conductor

Elaine Tyler-Hall director
Aaron Marsden designer
Marc Rosette lighting designer

PSAPPHA ENSEMBLE
Conrad Marshall flute/piccolo
Dov Goldberg clarinet/bass clarinet
Rebecca Goldberg french horn
Tracey Redfern trumpet
Phil Goodwin trombone
Richard Casey piano/celesta
Tom McKinney guitar/banjo
Tim Williams percussion
David Routledge violin
David Aspin viola
Jennifer Langridge cello
Daniel Whibley double bass
 
 
 
 

Psappha’s YouTube Channel

You can also visit Psappha’s YouTube Channel, where you can watch:

  • Films of works by emerging composers
  • Films of Psappha’s Hong Kong Residency (2013)
  • All of the films on Psappha’s website