2009 – The Whale Savers – ABOUT

The Whale Savers

Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2009

Synopsis: Smell the salt spray! Hear the crash of the waves on the rocks! Listen to the sea shanties of the fishermen and the song of the whale…

A stranded whale brings excitement to the forgotten fishing village of Farnaway, turning it into the centre of a frenzied media circus. The bored youngsters of the village gain a new sense of purpose from the mission to save the whale, but their elders are tempted by greed to take a deadlier path. Unless Farnaway can heal its generation divide, the whale will die…

Composer Martin Ward  
Librettist Phil Porter
Music Director Philip Colman
Soloists Lembitina Scratchpole, Octavia Plant, Elizabeth Windsor, Gusto Falk, Ginny Underdentist, Shefali Chakrabati-Smith, Maggie Teezle, Elton Haddock, Gillian Gumpstock, Romilly Clarke, Jemima Bing, Canasta Spark, Ebeneezer Fellingtree, Jamie Oliver, Danniii Nunchuck, Freya Friel
Groups The Media, The Fisherfolk, The Council, The Traders, The Elders, The Forefathers, The Youths, The Tourists  
Orchestra Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Percussion, Keyboards  

Notes on Production: The opera deals with contemporary environmental and social issues. It has a witty and often satirical libretto with scope for character individualisation and solo lines.

The music uses folk and sea shanty references and there are some rhythmically complex solo parts.

Some roles and groups (e.g. Freya Friel and Youths) are particularly suitable for children from 9 years old.

Doubling of groups is practical. In the original production, the Forefathers and the Tourists were doubled.

The original cast included three broken male voices (the Prime Minister/Elton Haddock (doubled), Rev Butterbandage and the chief Trader). THE WHALE SAVERS would suit a mixed-age cast or multi-generation cast.

Running time 60 minutes.

Music and video

Visit theVideo and Audio pages for clips from this production.


Prologue and Scene One

Maggie Teezle, an ancient crone, welcomes us to Farnaway, an isolated fishing village where little has happened for centuries. Only The Fisherfolk are busy; The TradersThe Elders, and the ghostly Forefathers complain, mutter, and talk of curses in their turn. The Youths are, unsurprisingly, bored! But when a whale becomes marooned in the harbour, the community suddenly finds itself the centre of massive media attention, with Ginny Underdentist, a BBC reporter, and Shefali Charabati-Smith, from ITV, competing with other Media People for a story. Danniii Nunchuck, one of The Youths, enjoys the limelight briefly before attention turns to the oldest living resident, EbeneezerFellingtree. Suddenly, the results are announced of a nationwide competition to find a name for the whale – Pomeroy.The Queen and the Prime Minister arrive, with the Prime Minister’s assistant, Mimi Quacksalver, to show their concern and to promise military help.

Scene Two

Farnaway’s Mayoress, Gillian Gumpstock, is introduced by Romilly Clarke, the town clerk; the Mayoress appointsLembitina Scratchpole, the curator of the Farnaway Museum, to co-ordinate a whale rescue mission. Away from the media spotlight, Lembitina and The Council admit that they have no sensible plan. The Traders barge into the meeting and, coldbloodedly, suggest that the whale should be left to die slowly in the harbour, to maximise media attention and The Traders’ profits! Ebeneezer Fellingtree and The Elders join the council meeting to recount a tale of long ago, when a whale entered the harbour and was rescued, resulting, disastrously, in a plague. They propose killing the whale! The Council are horrified by the proposal but are persuaded by the blackmailing threats of CanastaSpark, the butcher, and her cohort of TradersLembitina Scratchpole agrees with the plan, tempted by the prospect of a whale’s skeleton adorning her museum.

Scene Three

Next morning The Fisherfolk , The Media People and The Tourists gather on the harbour front to watch the rescue of the whale. Blessed by The Reverend Gulliver Butterbandidge, the diver, Elton Haddock, plunges into the sea with a rope to tow the whale out into deeper water. Lembitina Scratchpole tricks her assistant, Octavia Plant, into creating a diversion as Lembitina snips through the rope with shears. All but Octavia believe her boss’s explanation that the rope has broken under the strain.

Scene Four

Octavia follows Lembitina back to the museum where she threatens to go to the press with the story of Lembitina’streachery. Fearing discovery, Lembitina locks Octavia in the attic of the museum. As Octavia looks for somewhere to sleep, she finds an ancient scroll: “A Magic Incantation of Whale Liberation”. Ghosts of the village Forefathers appear and explain to Octavia that this spell will release the whale but only when sung on Farnaway’s beach at dawn by the village’s oldest and youngest residents. But how can the whale be saved if Octavia is still locked in the attic? Ruth Beguildy, one of the ghostly brethren, helpfully lends Octavia her mobile phone to contact Jamie Oliver, the leader ofThe Youths, to bring the young people of the village to her aid.

Scene Five

Meanwhile, at an emergency midnight meeting, council member, Jemima Bing, unveils another plan to save the whale: a portrait of a female whale will be sailed out to sea to entice Pomeroy out of the harbour. Suddenly, Jamie Oliver and the rest of The Youths burst in to denounce The CouncilThe TradersThe Elders and Lembitina. Before the TV cameras, Octavia comes forward, and unfurls the magic scroll containing the song that can save the whale. The youngest resident, Freya Friel, is willing to help but the eldest, Ebeneezer Fellingtree, refuses.

Scene Six and Epilogue

Octavia Plant and Freya Friel stand on the beach just before dawn, and, with time running out for the whale, Freyadecides to try the spell on her own; but nothing happens. The ancient crone, Maggie Teezle, approaches to reveal that she is several years older than EbeneezerMaggie and Freya begin to sing together and gradually everyone else joins in. Pomeroy finds the strength at last to float off to the safety of the deep ocean, where he belongs. On the quay,LembitinaThe CouncilThe Traders and The Elders apologise for their misdeeds, and The Queen and The PrimeMinister appoint Jamie Oliver as the new leader of The Council.


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