Sydney Chamber Opera stages haunting work The Lighthouseby Master of the Queen’s Music.

The mysterious disappearance in 1900 of three lighthouse keepers in the remote Flannan isles hardly seems like a subject screaming to be turned into an opera. But it’s just the kind of dark tale that would appeal to reclusive British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who, 79 years after the event, wrote a libretto and score based on a story that haunts his town in the rugged Orkney islands to this day.

“Talking to former lighthouse keepers in the Orkney islands who were very superstitious about the whole thing, I learned a great deal from them,” says Davies over the phone. “The mystery was never solved and I wanted to give a solution of my own invention that left it open so you don’t know quite what happens at the end.”

With an all-male cast of three and a 12-piece ensemble including honky tonk and banjo, The Lighthouse,to be staged this week by Sydney Chamber Opera, creates a claustrophobic, cabin-fever atmosphere that perfectly captures the imagined descent into madness that leads the men to abandon their post, never to return. According...