In 1900 a group of three men who were the keepers of an isolated lighthouse on a remote Scottish island vanished without a trace.
An official hearing speculated that one had either fallen or been swept into the sea in a storm, and the other two had died trying to save him. But there was no definitive finding, and more sinister speculations were advanced by many in the celebrated case.
The British composer Peter Maxwell Davies came up with his own speculation in his chamber opera The Lighthouse, and the Dallas Opera has taken a striking new course with its presentation in the Wyly Theatre of the Dallas Arts District.
The choice of a venue usually associated with spoken drama was appropriate, because The Lighthouse is very much a powerful theater piece, with music serving an attendant though striking role. One could just imagine it working as a spoken drama sans music, though it would be a very different piece.
Davies uses a small orchestra and just three singers who portray six characters: three naval men who come upon the abandoned lighthouse and, in a flashback, the three men who disappeared.
The Dallas Opera has chosen its cast wisely. Tenor Andrew Bidlack, baritone Robert Orth and bass Daniel Sumegi were superb in Saturday’s performance, ably singing difficult parts and believably creating six different roles.
Kevin Moriarty’s stage direction powerfully enhanced the drama, and Beowulf Boritt’s set, Claudia Stephens’ costumes and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting contributed a sinister milieu.
Another course change for the Dallas Opera is the selection of a work that is strikingly dissonant. The Butterfly-Bohème crowd probably wouldn’t be pleased by The Lighthouse, but few would deny that Davies’ music creates a spooky atmosphere perfectly appropriate to this creepy tale. Davies is of the school in which atmosphere is more important than ear-pleasing sounds.
One wise choice for the Dallas Opera was the selection of Nicole Paiment as the conductor. She was clearly the master of a difficult score and a vital participant in an evening of tense drama.
Oh yes, Davies’ solution to the mystery. It won’t be revealed here, but those who may encounter The Lighthouse for the first time should expect surprises and maybe a shock or two.
All photos by Karen Almond.