Maxwell Davies: The Doctor of Myddfai

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: The Doctor of Myddfai
PERFORMER: Paul Whelan, Lisa Tyrrell, Gwynne Howell; Welsh National Opera/Richard Armstrong
The Doctor of Myddfai was Maxwell Davies’s first stage work for ten years, a period in which he had immersed himself in writing orchestral works, symphonies and the series of Strathclyde Concertos especially. The fluency of that abstract invention is carried through into the opera – the lines, vocal and instrumental, are spun out effortlessly, the pacing, over a short span at least, is spot on, the colouring of the score is nicely varied. As a dramatic whole, though, the opera is less satisfying, and the message of David Pountney’s chunky libretto, overloaded with words at some points, is not driven home as firmly as it could be.


The precise nature of that message too is hard to establish. Pountney’s interweaving of the Welsh legend of a shepherd bestowed with healing powers with the story of a doctor ‘in Europe in the near future’ who discovers he has the key to the cure of a mysterious new disease, seems at times to be a parable of the perils of centralised government, at others an allegory of AIDS or perhaps of eco-disaster; maybe it’s all of those, but in performance the effect seems unclear, and Davies’s music and dramatic pacing do not help tease it out. The recording, taken from the Radio 3 tape of the Cardiff performances, has first-rate playing and singing (with Paul Whelan as the Doctor, and Lisa Tyrrell as the Child outstanding), though stage noise inevitably takes the edge off the quality of the sound picture. Andrew Clements