How the Whale Became

(2013) A chamber opera for family audiences



Some members of the company are diligently at work. Two – Boy and Girl – are messing about. They share with the audience a gambling game, where you hide one black stone in one hand and the other person has to guess which hand the stone is in. Out of the game comes the story of Whale Wort, how God created the whale from a whale wort plant in his garden. The company enact Whale’s creation story, culminating with an image of how the whale

..blows and he shrinks, then he needs forty winks
So he sinks and he dozes and all he has blown is
Grown back by the time he awakes.

The company sing an ensemble song about how God creates, from the mouse to koala, kookabura to otter, including the polar bear, and culminating with how he created Boy and Girl, ‘quite the most perfect creature that he’d ever make’. They are interrupted by Cat scratching his violin.

The company tell of how Elephant was made, and then Frog, who catches the playfulness of Boy and Girl’s game, and emerges as something of a trickster.

Further stories follow: the story of Polar Bear’s vanity and how she is tricked by frog into emigrating to the isolation of the North Pole, and how God’s intervention in Boy and Girl’s disastrous dabbling with creating animals results in the beautiful Peacock.

After an episode involving the leftovers of God’s creation clay and a plate of sausages, and a duet between Frog and Elephant, a fire empties the forest, leaving the devious frog with plans for how to trick her fellow animals of their best attributes, using her gambling game.


The landscape is devastated following the fire, but Boy realises how to solve the rat problem when he hears Cat’s screeching violin. The company then tell the story of Leftovers, the wild animal that murdered Wild Bull Bill’s cow. God challenges Leftovers but realises that the smell of sausages when he was created has imbued Leftovers with a terrible hunger. Girl suggests they make him King: ‘King of all the creatures, the brightest and best of all beasts’. Wild Bull is still angry but Frog tries her gambling game on him.

Cat has cleared the barn of all the rats and now even her violin playing has improved!

With all her stolen attributes, Frog has become Frogelebullionbearcock and she seduces Boy away from Girl with her extraordinary singing. God consoles Girl. The following day there’s a singing competition, at which God suggests that ‘whichever contestant is thought to be best, can take from the rest everything that they possess’. Frog tries to sing but splutters out only coughs, God sings and ‘all the animals seem to grow in size, flowers grow up and blossom and from the open heart of every flower flies a butterfly’. Frogelebullionbearcock becomes frog once again and is consoled with a hop.

Boy is reconciled with Girl and as Cat plays her violin, Girl, Boy and and all the animals dance in the light of the moon.







Vocal & instrumental ensemble

Vocal ensemble
taking on various roles:

Instrumental ensemble
Triple wind player


How the Whale Became is based on stories from The Dreamfighter and other creation tales by Ted Hughes, with a libretto by Edward Kemp. It was commissioned by the Royal Opera House and premiered at the Linbury Studio Theatre, in December 2013.