2015 – Eliza & the Swans


Synopsis: Eliza & the Swans is a re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Wild Swans. Eliza and her eleven brothers have been usurped by a Witch Queen. Eliza is raised by strangers; the brothers transformed into swans. Eliza must break the curse by knitting nettle-jackets, but her mute silence is taken as a sign of witchery. Will Eliza burn, or will she reclaim her identity as a princess?

Composer John Barber
Librettist Hazel Gould
Music Director Philip Sunderland


The New Queen, The Old Man and Old Woman, The Nanny, The Royal Herald, The Vicar, The King, Eliza, The Prince, The Archbishop, The Palace Chief of Staff, Delores, The Lighter of the Match


The New Queen, The Old Man and Old Woman, The Nanny, The Royal Herald, The Vicar, The King, Eliza, The Prince, The Archbishop, The Palace Chief of Staff, Delores, The Lighter of the Match  


Flute, Clarinet / Bass Clarinet, Cello, Harp, Double Bass, Accordion, Percussion





1 – In the forest

A cloaked woman curses eleven brothers, deposits a bundle and flees.   A pack of wolves encircles it, anticipating a meal. But is scared away by an old man, who then picks up the baby and takes it to be cared for by his wife.

2 – The Wedding

Palace Staff are dressing a room with flags.  Children chant until the Nanny – looking for Baby Eliza and the other royal children – chases them off.  The Head Butler is fretting until the Herald announces the wedding guests, who greet each other.  The King enters and the Vicar leads the congregation in admiring the Queen-to-be.  Royal marriage is pronounced and the guests go wild, but the Nanny still hunts for the King’s children from his first marriage.  The King toasts his new love and calls for his sons, but they cannot be found.   Meanwhile, the old couple lift baby Eliza high into the air and a flock of swans passes by.

3 – The Hut                                                                                                                               

The old couple present Eliza with her 16th birthday cake and tell her that she needs to stretch her wings.  The woman shows Eliza she has a crescent moon mark behind her ear – the sign of royalty.  Eliza won’t acknowledge that she’s a princess.

4 – The Return

The palace dilapidated by grief.  The King has become a drunkard, the Queen seethes, and staff are shiftless.  A disheveled Herald brings ‘Princess’ Eliza, whose mark is noticed by the Nanny.  Staff and the King are ecstatic at her return, but the Queen yells that Princess Eliza was killed by wolves. She claims the crescent moon mark is a mud-splat and the girl a charlatan.  Eliza’s claim to royalty is tested.  Because she can’t use cutlery properly or curtsey, the Queen denounces her as no real princess. The King dismisses Eliza and downs another goblet.

5 – The Mission

Eliza is found outside the palace by the Nanny, who begs her to find her brothers to rescue her people


 1 – The Lake

Eliza stumbles upon the remains of a lakeside fire.  Hearing shouting Eliza hides, as the Eleven Brothers enter playfully.  Their singing is curtailed when Jasper notices the relit fire and Eliza is surrounded.  Jasper realises Eliza is harmless and calls for food.  Eliza spits out her beak-full, discovering that she has been eating pondweed. When bent over to retch, her Royal birthmark is spotted.  The brothers show matching marks. Eliza asks for their help in reviving the Palace, but her brothers explain they are boys only by night. Every dawn they become mute swans, thanks to the new Queen’s curse – which Eliza vows to break.

2 – The Dream

In a dream, Eliza is instructed by the Old Woman how to break the curse. She must make nettle shirts for each of her brothers, but without making a single sound.

3 – The Hunters

Eliza wakes to find the boys gone and puts a few feathers in her hair. Silently, she begins to pick and knit nettles. A bugle sounds the approach of a hunting party celebrating The Feast of the Swan.  The Prince spots the feathers in Eliza’s hair and prepares to shoot. Eliza bolts but cannot break through the circle of her captors.  The Prince commends her beauty and is amazed by her mute silence and mysterious reserve. He proposes marriage and her silence is taken as an affirmative.


1 – The Feast

The village is bedecked with celebratory banners. Villagers await the Hunters, dancing and singing.  The Hunters return carting a writhing sack, which the Villagers assume contains a massive swan.   They’re despondent when Eliza emerges, clutching nettles and nettle-shirts.   The Prince presents the prize as his wife-to be, but loses heart as villagers crow with amazement that this sad-sack could be their Princess.  The Archbishop counsels caution, but his advice is rejected.  When everyone protests that Eliza is no princess, the Prince angrily cancels the Feast.

2 – The Witching Hour

Eliza creeps into a graveyard to count her nettle-shirts. The Archbishop accuses Eliza of silent witchcraft.  The Prince is desperate for ‘his swan’ to rebut the charge, but she won’t respond.  Guards and Staff take her silence as guilty admission and the Prince gives the order to burn her.

3 – The Fire

Next morning, the Villagers build a large bonfire, The Prince, Archbishop and attendants take their seats and the official Lighter of the Match summons Eliza.   She is holding the shirts as she kneels before the Prince.  The Archbishop offers her one more chance to speak, but Eliza remains mute.  When the Prince signals for the pyre to be lit, Eliza is suddenly encircled by eleven swans. Each takes a nettle-shirt and is transformed into a human.  Eliza speaks now – to proclaim she is no pet. She is Eliza, princess, Queen.

Notes on Production:

To come.

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

Running Time: 70 minutes