2014 – Deep Waters

Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2000, revived in 2014.

Synopsis: Deep Waters begins with a storm. Four shipwrecked children find themselves at the ocean’s deep and are hailed as saviours by reef-dwelling fish.  The Reefers’ fierce enemies arrive to carry off the fingerlings and the children learn of the challenges sea creatures face from fishing ‘up above’ and from predatory neighbours below.  The children witness the interdependent but competing worlds of the reef and the ‘dive’, before the thunderous Kraken restores order and balance.

Composer Cecilia McDowall
 Deep Waters Cover
Librettist Christie Dickason
Music Director Philip Sunderland


The Humans: Ariel – the eldest girl, Miranda – second eldest, Caleb – budding juvenile delinquent, Ferdie – Ariel’s much younger brother.
The Fish: Angel – Top Fish, Mayor Fish, Albert Finny,  Ann Chovy, Fishlet, Ralph Oyster Doyster, Jack Sprat, Crab, The Solitary Sole, Langoustine, Cocky St Jack, Scorpio – the capo di capi, Sting (Ray) – a rock musician, Mobster Lobster, Tina Tuna – a chanteuse.Kraken – a giant sea monster (spoken off stage)


Mothers,Reefers (Silkies, Filettes – Angel’s backing group, Conger Eels),Young Reefers (Sardines, Oracular Clams, Sea Weeds, Minnows),The Divers (Jelly Babes, Tina’s Band, Electric Eels, Lampreys, Card Sharks, Sea Urchins, Snappers).
Cross porpoises.


Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Percussion, Cello, Double Bass, Bass Guitar, Keyboards



Act One: The storm and the Other Place

Their sailing boat overwhelmed by a supernatural storm and with the air filled with a mysterious rumbling, three teenagers Miranda, Ariel and Caleb – along with little Ferdie – Sink to the bottom of the sea.

Fish and The Reefers emerge from hiding to inspect the arrivals from ‘Up Above’. These creatures live in the Other Place, a barricaded community on the sea floor.  The Minnows are scared, but a small Sardine declares its bravery.  Cocky St Jack touches a child and the Conger Eels shudder; the Crab thinks they are asylum seekers; the Oracular Clams sense danger. Ann Chovy sends for their leader Angel, who works out that – by the will of The Kraken – these ‘juvenile fishers’ have been brought to save the Reefers from their enemies.  The Filettes back up Angel, who summons the Silkies to use their sea magic to revive the children.

The children are amazed to be able to breathe amongst the fish. Ferdie wants his mummy; Caleb wants to use his knife. We hear the voices of the Mothers from Up Above, grieving for their lost children, but Miranda is distracted by the brave new world.  Angel and the Mayor Fish make a formal welcome. The children meet creatures who include Ann Chovy, Ralph Oyster Doyster, Jack Sprat, the Minnows, the Sea Weeds, Crab, Langoustine and Albert Finney.  The Solitary Sole is waved to.

The children are puzzled by the gratitude of their welcome, when a fish bursts in to tell everyone to hide – because the terrible Predators are invading.   The thuggish Sting (Ray), Card sharks, Lampreys and Snappers swarm in with nets – and a melee ensues.  Ariel and Miranda try to fight the Predators, but Caleb seems to help them.  The Divers carry off  the Minnows, Sardines and Ferdie!  Ariel fights off the thugs, but Caleb runs off to join them.

After the battle, the fish ask Miranda and Ariel to pursue the predators and kill them, handing them a cutlass and a net.  They say that they are victims, but creatures from lower down the food chain denounce their hypocrisy, which further bewilders the children.  Miranda and Ariel realize that they need to rescue Ferdie and take responsibility, so they accept the weapons and set off.

Act Two, Scene 1 – Sting’s Dive

Sting’s Dive is a hang-out for bottom-feeders: low-life playing rock-pool with Caleb; Card Sharks and Mobster Lobster gambling; Jelly Babes flirting with Sharks; Sting and band tuning their instruments; Sea Urchins messing about; Tina Tuna looking melancholy; and Scorpio slurping soup. Ferdie, the Minnows and Sardines are caged and convinced they are about to become the main course, since Scorpio wants more protein in his pot. The Predators terrify the small fry by listing the recipes they plan to devise.  Whilst waiting, Scorpio demands a performance by Tina Tuna and the Electric Eels.  Tina laments her blue-fin blues– but is canned by Scorpio who wants an up-beat beat. The Jelly Babes provide sassy fan dance to wild applause.

‘Fishers’ Miranda and Ariel arrive but, completely outnumbered, they ditch their weapons for a white flag and claim diplomatic immunity.  The Predators argue for their natural right to hunt, especially since they are fighting to survive the effects of human depredation.   The children try to rescue Ferdie but are hemmed in by the Divers. But just before they strike, the predators freeze at a sound of an engine and the shadow of a net. When danger has passed, Scorpio declares war against the Reefers. Miranda and Ariel rush back to warn Angel, whilst the Predators muster.

Act Two, Scene 2 – The Kraken’s Lair

A tiny fishlet sings of her fright and confusion, as the Reefers and the girls arrive equipped for combat.  The Predators join battle and, as the bodies pile up, a rumbling sound builds up. The Kraken wakes and rises, flanked by a guard of Cross-Porpoises, condemns the fish’s pettiness and greed, conjouring a vision of doomed future in which all sea life has been destroyed. The Cross Porpoises sing that greed leads to mutual destruction, but that balance and moderation are the basis of sustainability.  The children understand that they must restore the balance ‘up above’ and are helped to the surface by the magical Silkies where they meet the mothers. With the children gone, Angel and Scorpio encourage the Reefers and the Predators to try to co-exist peacefully – however tough it might be.

Notes on Production:

Deep Waters was commissioned in 2000 and revived in 2014 but the environmental message about over-fishing and Man’s relationship with the natural world, which appeals strongly to school students of all ages, was still topical. 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 although the Silkies had more challenging choruses.  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.

A single underwater set, which doubled for a number of locations including the nightclub scene.  Depending on budget and preference, set and costumes can indicate fish breeds rather than be too literal but alternatively, the piece can offer great potential for imaginative, fantasy costume and set design. Helpful to have a Choreographer and Movement Director.

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

Running Time: 70 minutes

Audience Feedback

See Q&A with composer and librettist here

See video clips HERE