2002 – Stormlight – ABOUT


Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2002

Synopsis: Perched on a rocky crag, pounded by the Four Winds, stands an abandoned lighthouse — full of dusty, bygone instruments and….a table set for dinner. Mystery, anguish and panic fill the air. Into the lamp’s seductive beam are all drawn, adults and children alike — like moths to the flame — and are swallowed by the storm-filled waters of the Four Seas. Nightmares abound. Child ghosts dance. Lost souls return and torment. But how can a lighthouse — a symbol of strength and protection — have developed such awesome power?

Composer David Knotts
Librettist Katharine Craik
Music Director Philip Colman
Soloists Navigator, Thief, Waterfinder, Nightwatchman, Torchbearer, Musician, Loss
Groups Ghost Children, Beachcombers, The Winds, The Seas  
Orchestra Oboe, Cor Anglais, Recorder, Viola, Cello, Harp, Percussion, Electronic Track  

Notes on Production: A menacing, atmospheric piece telling a mystery story with a dark ending. Many children will enjoy the shivers down the spine which this Gothic piece produces.

Musically it is contemporary in style, with dissonances and some hauntingly beautiful passages. A large percussion section is essential. The vocal parts are relatively challenging to learn. Good lighting effects are more or less essential but otherwise Stormlight is very simple to stage. Unusually for a W11 Opera commission, the drama is carried by the leading characters. The two large chorus groups portray Wind and Seas without any individual characterisation. Ages 9-18: the principals need to be relatively experienced, probably studying music beyond Key Stage 3, but the Wind and Seas choruses could be made up of younger children with no stage experience.

Running time 65 minutes.

Music and Video

Please visit the Video and Audio pages for clips from this production.


Perched on a rocky English crag, buffeted by the Four Winds and Seas, stands an abandoned lighthouse. On the desolate beach below, the Beachcombers — two groups of children — are playing undisturbed. One group, led by the inquisitive Myrtle, combs the beach for shells and pebbles. The older group of children picnics on the rocks, teasing each other while they play cards and sing songs. They are unaware that a storm is brewing and darkness is gathering. Myrtle, overcome with curiosity, wanders towards the lighthouse, but is called away just in time as battle commences between the Winds and Seas which devastates the beach.

Six explorers arrive in this maelstrom. They are strangers from the four corners of the world, a Navigator, Waterfinder, Torchbearer Nightwatchman, Musician and Thief. They seek shelter in the abandoned lighthouse, but cannot open the door. Eventually, the Thief finds the key and excitement mounts as to what they will find insides. What they find is a morass of ancient maps and charts, dusty nautical and astronomical instruments, compasses, rusty buckets with brushes — and a table set for dinner. Mystery fills the air.

The exhausted explorers find places to sleep. Then strange music begins and out of the mists come Ghost Children from another time. We are the ones in terror and fight that left in the night. Only the Navigator wakes and sees a small pale form of a Ghost Child — Loss — as she tries to warn him about the tide coming in and to leave before it is too late. He who is lost shall never return. One by one, the other Explorers wake: Did you hear it? What could it have been? There is confusion and panic as they relate their dreams and all realise they have had the same vision, about a beautiful girl, Loss, a Ghost Child.

The Torchbearer’s lantern blows out and, left in the moonlight, they are horrified to find that the tide has come in early and the Navigator has vanished. Without the Navigator we can’t get home. Another battle is raging between the Winds and the Seas while the Explorers frantically try to find light. With difficulty they drag a lamp to the top of the lighthouse, each taking charge of oil, matches, handle. They turn the beam of light onto the ferocious sea and far in the distance see the Navigator and Loss, dancing together on an outcrop of rocks.

The Explorers are bewitched by siren calls from the Ghost Children — Come with us, they whisper, Follow the light into the sea. At the same time, a beam of light turns on them, lighting a path in front of the lighthouse and down to the sea. Entranced, the Explorers sadly follow the Ghost Children’s voices into the sea and are swallowed up in its depths. The light from the lighthouse splutters out and the sun begins to rise.

The next day, all the Beachcombers are back on the shore, gathering treasurers thrown up by the storms of the night. They have never heard a story that six people went missing in the night, never to return. Myrtle spots a key, the key to the lighthouse, which is engulfed in light. How can a lighthouse, symbol of strength and protection, develop such strange and awesome power?


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