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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse. Ben McAteer, John Molloy and Brenton Ryan. Photo by Pat Redmond


1900. The dawn of the twentieth century. On a remote lighthouse in the Fladda Isles off the Outer Hebrides three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappear. Their absence discovered when supplies are delivered to a dark, deserted lighthouse in perfect working order. The tale captures the public imagination as notions of supernatural forces compete with emerging psychological ideas. Jump forward to 1980 and composer Peter Maxwell Davies premieres his chamber opera, The Lighthouse, recounting these events. One final jump to 2021 sees Irish National Opera reviving Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse for the twenty-first century in a sombre production as overbearingly brooding as it is undeniably powerful.

Divided into prologue, which recounts the discovery of the abandoned lighthouse, and a longer act which reimagines the lives of the three missing men, The Lighthouse is less story, or even study, so much as an evocation of mood and atmosphere. Director Edwina Casey framing the experience in suggestions of German Expressionism, capturing both the supernatural and psychological simultaneously. Annemarie Woods' beautifully evocative set and costumes, supported by Sinead Wallace's superb lighting, establishing a misted, monochrome landscape as imaginative as it is literal. Even as glaring light, depending where you're sitting, can feel like you're being interrogated.

The Lighthouse. Brenton Ryan and John Molloy. Photo Kip by Carroll

Tenor Gavin Ring, baritone Ben McAteer, and bass John Molloy dazzle as they negotiate the vocal demands of Maxwell Davies' suggestive score, playing both the lost lighthouse keepers and the men at their inquest. Excelling as musical dissonance is married to phrases of cinematic familiarity, along with evocations of natural sounds, suggesting both the ghostly and psychological. The Lighthouse happy to allow the audience determine their own weighting. Throughout, Elaine Kelly doesn't so much conduct the Irish National Opera Orchestra as channel and direct its wild energies. Establishing tone and mood with power and precision, disclosing musical depths you fear falling into.

Currently on tour, The Lighthouse, like a Hammer Horror movie, isn't big on seasonal joy. But if its darkness, evocative of that place where mind and spirit meet, is sometimes unsettling, its singing is a joy to listen to. Most notably during three songs conveying aspects of the missing men. Under Kelly's guidance The Lighthouse yields its full musical measure, and then some. If you've already seen INO's filmed version made earlier this year, also directed by Casey, you will want to experience the living thing. And The Lighthouse is a living thing well worth the experience.

The Lighthouse, by Peter Maxwell Davies, is on tour:

O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin: December 2 - 4

Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray: December 7

An Grianán, Letterkenny: December 11

For information visit Irish National Opera


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