P. Maxwell Davies, The Lighthouse, N. Mackie, C. Keyte, I. Comboy, BBC Philharmonic, P. Maxwell Davies
(released on May 27, 2014)
Naxos 8.660354 | 72'29"
Maxwell Davies wrote his own libretto, creating a fictionalized version of the actual disappearance of three lighthouse guardians on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The events can easily be read as something from The X Files; in fact, they were the basis of an episode of Doctor Who, The Horror of Fang Rock, broadcast just a couple years before the creation of the opera. The prologue features the three singers as officers of the ship that discovered the empty lighthouse, interrogated at the court of enquiry by a solo horn (at times too like the "wah-wah" sound of the adult voices in a Peanuts cartoon). The model for this ghost story, one imagines, is Britten's The Turn of the Screw, and Maxwell Davies gets a similar range of horripilation-inducing sounds from his group of twelve instrumentalists, including a folksy banjo and, a tribute to Alban Berg, an out-of-tune upright piano.
In his booklet essay, Maxwell Davies invokes the cursed "Tower" card in the Tarot deck, and when the three keepers agree each to sing a song, the performances will determine, as Blazes puts it, who is King, Devil, and Fool. As Blazes and Sandy play a game of cards, the bass sings lines attributed to the "Voices of the Cards," the first sign of the incipient insanity about to grip the lighthouse keepers, who have been stranded at their post by storms long past when they should have been relieved. Some comic relief is provided by the songs offered by the trio, especially the sentimental love ballad sung by Sandy, the tenor, which the other two join, jumbling the words in hilarious ways ("Oh that you held me ... fast ... by the cock").