Irish National Opera on tour with Peter Maxwell Davis’ The Lighthouse

Posted 9 months ago in Arts & Culture Features

Irish National Opera is on tour nationwide with Peter Maxwell Davis’ spooky chamber opera The Lighthouse. Full of mystery and intrigue, The Lighthouse transports the audience to the Fladda Isles in Scotland to explore the case of three missing lighthouse keepers.  This eerie and atmospheric opera is directed by Edwina Casey and is performed by tenor Gavan Ring, baritone Ben McAteer and bass John Molloy.

Fergus Sheil INO’s artistic director explains his fascination with the opera “The Lighthouse has haunted me since I first got to know the piece in 1998. No matter how many times you engage with it, this opera reveals more and more at each turn. The prologue is set in a court of enquiry and the main act in a lighthouse. Although both are enclosed and somewhat claustrophobic environments, the imagination of the composer knows no bounds. Peter Maxwell Davies pushes the cast and orchestra to the limits. The range of the three roles is extraordinary, emotionally as well as vocally, and the individual members of the orchestra are also pushed to extremes. The instrumental writing is virtuosic, with many players called on to play multiple instruments.”

Irish National Opera Orchestra is conducted by the rapidly-rising, prize-winning conductor Elaine Kelly. Elaine joined INO in 2019 as a member of the ABL Aviation Opera Studio and quickly became indispensable. She conducted half of the short operas in INO’s 20 Shots of Opera and also conducted Amanda Feery’s A Thing I Cannot Name, both for film. Elaine was recently appointed the first resident conductor of INO, and The Lighthouse is her INO live performance debut.

A true story and unresolved mystery became the backdrop for Maxwell Davies’ opera. In December 1900, a supply ship arrived to find the lighthouse completely empty, the clocks had stopped and meals were left uneaten. The three lighthouse keepers had vanished without a trace. In the opera the singers all perform multiple roles. They play the officers investigating the mysterious disappearance and perform the roles of the keepers, exploring the psychological state of the men.


The music in The Lighthouse is absolutely arresting and very much of its time — the opera was completed in 1979 and first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1980. Maxwell Davies had moved to Orkney some years before and had lived for a time in a remote cottage on a cliff edge with no running water or electricity. He vividly recreates this haunting environment in The Lighthouse and his imaginative use of instrumental techniques conjures up colour and atmosphere — mist, sea lions, birds, foghorns— as the mood gets progressively more ominous and volatile, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

Each instrument of the 12-piece orchestra plays a vital role in portraying the mysterious surroundings but most notably, an out of tune piano and a solo horn. The horn acts as a key element in piecing together the fractious minds of the three men. In an effort to relieve tension between the three characters, a sing song is suggested. Here, Maxwell Davies gives the audience a clinsight into the diverse personalities of each lighthouse keeper.

The Lighthouse is touring throughout Ireland from 20 November to 11 December 2021 to An Táin Arts Centre Dundalk, The Everyman Cork, Siamsa Tíre Tralee, glór Ennis, Solstice Arts Centre Navan, O’Reilly Theatre Dublin, Mermaid Arts Centre Bray and An Grianán Letterkenny.



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