Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A raw spine tingling delight: Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse from Shadwell Opera

Paul Curievici, Pauls Putnins, Owain Browne - Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse - Shadwell Opera (photo Nick Rutter)
Paul Curievici, Pauls Putnins, Owain Browne - Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse - Shadwell Opera (photo Nick Rutter)
Peter Maxwell Davies The Lighthouse; Paul Curievici, Owain Browne, Pauls Putnins, dir: Jack Furness, cond: Finnegan Downie Dear; Shadwell Opera at the Hackney showroom
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Nov 12 2017 Star rating: 4.0
An eloquent and emotionally brutal piece of theatre

Shadwell Opera returned to the Hackney Showroom last week (seen 12 November 2017) with performances of Peter Maxwell Davies’ chamber opera The Lighthouse. Singers Paul Curievici, Owain Browne and Pauls Putnins; tenor, baritone and bass playing the three lighthouse keepers and the officers of their relief ship in a production directed by Jack Furness. The twelve piece ensemble was under the musical direction of Finnegan Downie Dear.

Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic masterpiece invites us to unravel the unexplained real life disappearance of three men from the Flannan Isles in 1900; a mystery that has been the basis for many a ghostly tale even acting as inspiration for Dr. Who’s Horror of Fang Rock. The relief ship Hesperus - talk about the kiss of death - arrived to find the men’s quarters looking as if they had been left in a hurry, the lamp still in perfect working order. The men had disappeared into thin air.


The opera opens with a board of enquiry. The three officers attempting to recall memories of their fateful journey and macabre discovery. The men are assaulted by questions. An insistent French horn barks out queries as their testimonies become muddled and inconsistent. In the quest for musical immediacy some of the words became submerged in the unrestrained waves of sound, their significance for the denouement lost, but by then the raw intensity of the performances had me in an icy grip.

The three Officers now became the lighthouse keepers Sandy, Blazes and Arthur. Their claustrophobic wooden O now the footprint of the lighthouse, ankle deep in water they wrestled with their demons and the fragility of their psyche was gradually exposed. Pauls Putnins’ sonorous Arthur was a tub-thumping proselytiser whipping up their collective emotions with a terrifying falsetto. Owen Browne’s brutalised Blazes was a bully and paradoxically the more vulnerable of the three. Sandy, Paul Curievici, tried to keep the peace and suggested they sing songs Blazes agreed: "...then we shall see who is king, who devil, and who the fool amongst us." Sandy’s beautifully sung pastiche of a love ballad temporarily made his comrades quiescent but the innocence soon evaporated and the three men’s unvarnished vulnerability was once more exposed. As a mist descended they were impelled by supernatural hallucinations to arm themselves and advance into the night. And then the bombshell. The singers are once more revealed as the officers of the relief ship: "We had to defend ourselves, by God!". They tidy up.

Paul Curievici, Owain Browne, Pauls Putnins - Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse - Shadwell Opera (photo Nick Rutter)
Paul Curievici, Owain Browne, Pauls Putnins - Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse - Shadwell Opera (photo Nick Rutter)

It isn’t very often an audience falls into a prolonged silence at the end of a performance, in this case stunned by an eloquent and emotionally brutal piece of theatre. This deserves to be seen again – and soon.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Peter Maxwell Davies : The Lighthouse
Sunday 12 November 2017
Shadwell Opera
Hackney Showroom
Officer 1 / Sandy : Paul Curievici
Officer 2 / Blazes : Owain Browne
Officer 3 / Arthur : Pauls Putnins
Director : Jack Furness
Conductor : Finnegan Downie Dear

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