Upham's Corner Online

The Lighthouse - Boston Lyric Opera at the JFK Museum

Posted: February 10, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

The Boston Lyric Opera presents an opera so close to Upham’s Corner, we can drive there in 10 minutes.  We might as well call it our own.  Officially Dorchester, the JFK Museum is a perfect venue for Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera, The Lighthouse.

And who knows.  Perhaps we will find the BLO stopping at the Strand Theatre one day.

The opera runs through the 5pm Sunday matinee performance and is well worth seeing.  In fact, it is a MUST!

For more information www.blo.org

The LighthouseIn December 1900 the Orkney, a lighthouse supply ship, went on a routine tour of duty to the Flannan Islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. What they found was an empty lighthouse -  all three beds and the table looked as if they had been left in a hurry, the lamp, though out, was in perfect working order, but the men had disappeared into thin air.

Or so the story goes.  But what really happened?

Commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival, The Lighthouse was composed in 1979 by  Peter Maxwell Davies.  He has created a dark storm of intrigue beginning with a court of inquiry into the unnatural disappearance of the three keepers.

The only remaining living beings … a swarm of black rats. What could have happened?

What if …

The composer’s imagination and understanding of the complexities of the human spirit provide, in themselves,  a myriad of possible answers.  Can we immerse ourselves in the possibilities, several simultaneously, and allow them to intertwine into a dark cloud of chaos?

Don’t expect to listen only to human voices.  The brass instruments, for example, act as commentator and character, putting questions to the officers in the Court of Inquiry.

According to Mr. Davies, he created an opera with three male voices (a tenor, a baritone, and a bass) and orchestration that provided complex and contrasting musical color.

The dialog moves from past to present while not implying that the present is other than a ghostly imprint of our imagination.

The opera’s opening sets the stage but uses the entire theater - the lighthouse in full view and the supply ship in which we find ourselves traveling. 

As the opera transitions from past to imagined present and across characters whose diverse personalities remind us of our own complexities, we, too, lose track of what is happening.  Until, that is, the characters take their place on stage.

Who they are is portrayed through their songs, each one of which is colored by different instruments.
  • Blazes, accompanied by violin and banjo, sings of his crime-ridden youth in city slums that lead to murder and the death of his parents.
  • Sandy’s delightful love song reveals a darker, less innocent side and is highlighted by the sounds of cello and out-of-tune piano.
  • For those of us familiar with the liturgy of the church, Arthur’s dutiful prayers and biblical rantings extend simultaneously comfort and disgust as he projects his prejudices onto the lives of his comrades.

Peter Maxwell Davies has, it would seem, no particular interest in a trivial tale with no historical resolution except as a device for the overwhelming journey into insanity that befalls (he suggests) the lighthouse keepers whose isolation drives them on to their deaths.

The mournful and magnificent cries of the demanding French horn

the cacophony of the instrumentation as the swirling beams of light give life to the lighthouse and blindness to the audience

the deafening sound of the foghorn as the gaseous sea presses in on their world


All of this done with incredible style.


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