2000 – Deep Waters

Deep Waters

Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2000, published by Gemini Publications. Also performed by other opera companies.

Synopsis: The action begins with a wild, raging storm. Four children fall overboard to the bottom of the sea. In this supernatural, aquatic world, where the fish play havoc with each other in a bid to survive, the children find they can now breathe. With a ghastly sense of impending doom, they realize that it was no accident that brought them here. They have a dangerous task to perform. An opera that is witty but with a dark edge, it has a serious issue at its heart — overfishing.

Composer Cecilia McDowall
Librettist Christie Dickason
Music Director Philip Colman
Soloists Miranda, Ariel, Caleb, Ferdie, Angel, Sting, Scorpio, Tina Tuna, Kraken
Groups Silkies, Electric Eels, Mothers, Fillettes, Cross Porpoises, Conger Eels, Reefers, Predators, Jelly Babes, Young Reefers, Sprats, Minnows, Young Predators, Sea Urchins, Snappers, Plankton  
Orchestra Flute, Clarinet/Sax, Keyboard, Cello, Bass and Percussion  

Notes on Production: Deep Waters has a topical environmental message about over-fishing and Man’s relationship with the natural world which appeals strongly to school students of all ages. It has huge scope for many different characters, appealing both to younger and older students and also to boys and girls. The libretto is light, humorous and full of jokes and outrageous puns.

The musical style is lyrical, with liberal use of gospel and jazz references. Rhythms are complex, but the original cast found the harmonies relatively accessible and easy to learn.

The piece offers great potential for imaginative, fantasy costume and set design. With use of blackout curtains and lighting, a single set could suffice. Competent choreographic skills are recommended for several specific scenes.

Deep Waters requires nine soloists, the total cast could range from 40-100 with some doubling recommended but not essential, to allow minor cast members more time on stage.

Age range: 9-18, many opportunities for children at the younger end of the range.

Running time: 70 minutes.

Click here to see Video and Audio clips of this production


Act I

Amid the shrieking winds and thunder of a terrible, supernatural storm controlled from a mysterious undersea cave, a small sailing yacht founders and four children, Miranda, Ariel, Caleb and Ferdie, sink through the waves to the bottom of the sea where they lie as if dead. One by one, startled reef fish and other sea creatures, the Reefers, pop out of hiding (Is it Fish?) to risk a closer look at these alarming arrivals from Up Above – a place so terrifying they can’t even speak its name. One larger fish, Ann Chovy, sends for their leader, Angel, who works out an answer: by the will of Kraken, guardian of the seas, the children have been sent from Up Above to save the Reefers from their enemies, the Predators. Ashe summons the Silkies to use their magic to revive the children with the Sea Magic.

The children awake, startled to find themselves at the bottom of the sea and able to breathe (It Can’t be True). They are also puzzled by the warmth of their Official Whelkcome and the Reefers’ joy at their arrival (We’re So Happy!). Above it all (heard by Ariel, and her younger brothers, Caleb and Ferdie, but not by Miranda, who eagerly explores this amazing new world), the voices of the Mothers call for their lost children.

As Ariel wonders why the fish are so grateful, the reason becomes terrifyingly clear. To the horror of Miranda and Ariel, the Predators invade the reef (Raid), kidnapping little Ferdie along with all the minnows. Caleb, however, is so impressed by the Predators that he runs off to join them. As the surviving fish reappear from hiding, they explain to Miranda and Ariel that they have always been the victims (Poor Little Innocent Us), an argument soon undermined by the appearance of the Plankton and Seaweed (Demo) shouting, “You eat us!” Confused by this contradiction, Miranda and Ariel are reassured by Angel that It’s Only Natural. She goes on to plead that the Reefers desperately need the children’s help. They are, after all, juvenile fishers – they must go and fish! The terrified children protest at the responsibility thrust upon them. But as the fish beg and the voices of their human mothers float across the sea, Miranda and Ariel take a first step toward adulthood (It’s Down to Us). Reluctantly but resolutely, they exit on their mission.

Act II Scene 1

We are now in Sting’s Dive, a low-life joint frequented by the Predators. Ferdie and the minnows are in a cage marked ‘Plat du Jour’ (Help! Help!) being hungrily examined by Scorpio, who tells us he is fed up with eating Junk! The Predators enjoy telling the small fry in the cage that they are about to be eaten (Yum Yum Baby Kebab). While Scorpio is waiting for his food to be prepared, he demands a performance by Tina Tuna and the Electric Eels. Tina is a moody chanteuse with dreams of a better world, which give her a bad case of Blue-Fin Blues. Scorpio interrupts her with a demand for something more cheerful and the sexy Jelly Babes up the tempo with a fan dance (Finesse). Their performance ends when Miranda and Ariel enter to bargain for the release of the hostages (Diplomatic Neutrals). Sting and the Predators argue that it is their right to hunt for prey (Reason Not the Need) and that they are themselves fighting to survive the effects of human depredation. Scorpio is so incensed by the children’s attempt to negotiate that he immediately declares It’ll Be War. Miranda and Ariel rush back to warn Angel.

Act II Scene 2

Picked out of the darkness by a single light, a tiny fishlet sings of her fright caught in the horrors she does not understand (I’m Scared). The Predators invade. A horrible battle begins (It’s War). As bodies pile up on the seabed, we hear the supernatural sounds of the storm once again. The Kraken, guardian of the sea, rises up out of its cave, vast and terrifying, flanked by its praetorian guard of Cross Porpoises (The Kraken Wakes).

The Kraken roars that this senseless destruction must stop, and it shows the children what will happen if things go on as they have (The End of the World) in which all sea life has been destroyed. Then it offers the horrified children a glittering teeming vision of what might yet be. The Cross Porpoises explain further in Yang and Yin. The Kraken tells the children that they must go back to the surface and use their new knowledge to stop the devastation of the sea. Their underwater tasks completed, the Silkies set the children free (More Sea Magic) and they swim back to the surface to rejoin their Mothers.

With the children gone, Angel and Scorpio encourage the Reefers and the Predators in their new philosophy (Good Intentions Rule OK?). They all agree that they are going to try to co-exist peacefully, however tough it might be (Up Above).