“What Lies Beneath” Press Release


A Promenading Operatic Pastiche That Explores the Dark History of New York’s Maritime Slavery Through a Modern Lens of Racial Justice

NEW YORK, July 7, 2021–  On Site Opera, New York’s pioneering opera company rooted in site-specific storytelling and the immersive experience, in partnership with the South Street Seaport Museum, brings opera aboard the deck of the historic tall ship Wavertree with What Lies Beneath, August 28-September 2, 2021. This immersive musical experience invites small groups to travel around the ship’s main deck to hear and see vignettes intended to connect audiences to the complex and tragic stories surrounding American maritime history, both through the enslavement of African people and through novelist Herman Melville’s tragic heroes. 

Combining song, story, history, and movement as the company returns to live performance, What Lies Beneath is a site-specific and immersive experience aboard Wavertree. Wavertree is designated on the National Register of Historic Places and represents the thousands of ships that docked along New York’s waterfront over the centuries. Built of riveted wrought iron in 1885, Wavertree is an archetype of the sailing ships of the latter half of the 19th century that, during the “age of sail,” lined South Street by the dozens, creating a forest of masts from the Battery to the Brooklyn Bridge.

From the enticements used to lure Africans into enslavement to Captain Ahab’s final moments of moral reckoning aboard the whaling ship Pequod in Moby Dick, What Lies Beneath is a series of six unique vignettes featuring works from Amistad, by Anthony Davis & Thulani Davis, Ahab, a monodrama by Juliana Hall & Caitlin Vincent, 1619, a choral song cycle by Damien Geter, Billy Budd, by Benjamin Britten, E.M. Forester, & Eric Crozier, Sea Fever, by John Ireland & John Masefield and Riders to the Sea, by Ralph Vaughn Williams and John Millington Sygne. 

“Over the last 9 years, On Site Opera has brought iconic New York City spaces to life through opera while partnering with impactful institutions that bring their own elements of culture to our community,” explains General and Artistic Director, Eric Einhorn. “As New York welcomes back live audiences, we are looking forward to partnering with the South Street Seaport Museum and, together with our amazing cast and creative team, amplifying African American voices and stories through the exploration of our country’s tragic past.”

“What excites me about this project is the care, humility and humanistic approach that is at the center of the design of the program. It is an opportunity to see the magic, regality, and resilience of a community of enslaved Africans through their eyes while experiencing the dissonance of the colonial, myopic view of who they were thought to be,” adds Winston Benons, Jr., the project’s Co-Director and Cultural Advocate.

“All of us at the Seaport Museum are so pleased that On Site Opera has chosen to offer their latest site-specific performances on our very own ship Wavertree,” said Capt. Jonathan Boulware, President and CEO, South Street Seaport Museum. “What better way could there be to enhance our reopened ship than of an on site opera? This thoroughly unique experience, aligned with the Museum’s mission, will delve into tough issues from our maritime histories. The Seaport Museum is proud to support these explorations.”

On the heels of their most recent project, The Road We Came, a 3-part walking tour through Black Music History, What Lies Beneath continues to use opera and music to explore themes of social justice, racial inequality and history’s continuing impact on the lens through which the world is experiencing today.



What Lies Beneath will offer six live and in person performances, August 28 – September 2, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. The running time is 75-minutes.

Tickets will be on sale July 12, 2021 at 12:00p.m. EST. There is a suggested ticket donation of $40


Tall Ship Wavertree is permanently moored at the South Street Seaport Museum’s Pier 16, located at Fulton and South Streets. Access to Wavertree requires climbing a small set of ladder-type stairs and an angled gangway and is not ADA-accessible.

Pier 16 is accessible by trains A, C, 2, 3, J, Z, 4, or 5 or busses M-15 SBS or M-15 to Fulton Street. Wavertree is also accessible by the NYC Ferry and New York Waterway Ferry to Pier 11, as well as the Staten Island Ferry to Whitehall Terminal.


What Lies Beneath will be performed completely outside on the deck of the tall ship Wavertree.

Audience members will be required to provide proof of full vaccination at the entry to the tall ship Wavertree regardless of age. On Site Opera will NOT require testing of audience members, and all performers, staff, and ushers will all be fully vaccinated. ‌ Masks are not required for audience members but encouraged if desired. Ushers and staff will be wearing masks.

Performers will be unmasked. Audience members will be seated 12 ft away from performers when they are singing. High-touch areas will be cleaned regularly, and On Site Opera will provide hand sanitation areas. 


What Lies Beneath | World Premiere

Eric Einhorn, co-director

Winston Benons, Jr., co-director/cultural advocate

James James, Jr., music director

Azalea Fairley, costume designer

Trickster’s Aria 

From Amistad by Anthony Davis & Thulani Davis

The opening aria from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis’s opera about a rebellion on board a Spanish slave ship. The aria is sung by the African deity Trickster God as a prelude to the performance and as an invocation for the events to follow in the plot. 

Trickster performed by Bernard Holcomb, tenor.


A Monodrama by Juliana Hall & Caitlin Vincent

A dramatic musical monologue performed by the famous Melville character Captain Ahab, the monomaniacal captain of the whaling ship Pequod in Moby Dick, at the moment of his death. 

Ahab performed by Zachary James, bass. 

1619: A Song Cycle | East Coast Premiere

by Damien Geter

A moving ensemble piece that uses poetry and historical accounts to explore the theme of enticements as they relate to the enslavement of African people.

Ensemble Cast: 

Chantal Freeman, soprano

Carami Hilaire, soprano

Karmesha Peake, mezzo soprano

Elliot Paige, tenor

Lindell Carter, tenor

Nicholas Davis, baritone

Edwin Jhamal Davis, bass

O Beauty, O Handsomeness, Goodness

Claggart’s Aria from Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten, E.M. Forester, & Eric Crozier

In Herman Melville’s unfinished nautical novella Billy Budd, John Claggart, the sinister master-at-arms aboard the ship Indomitable, wrestles with his own lustful and violent desires for the young protagonist, Billy. 

Claggart performed by Matthew Anchel, bass.

Sea Fever 

By John Ireland & John Masefield

A short song about the pull of sea life in a world premiere arrangement by James Davis Jr. 

Maurya’s Lament 

The Final Scene from Riders to the Sea by Ralph Vaughn Williams & John Millington Sygne

In this closing scene in the opera, Maurya laments the death of all those lost to the sea.

Maurya performed by Tesia Kwarteng, mezzo soprano.

Byron Burford-Phearse, pianist

Charity Wicks, pianist

Dmitry Glivinskiy, pianist





Founded in 2012, On Site Opera is the leading presenter of site-specific operas in non- traditional venues throughout New York City. Rooted in collaboration and storytelling, On Site Opera celebrates the connection between artist and audience through highly-curated experiences led by seasoned opera artists and bold and innovative creative teams. To date, OSO has produced 18 operas in as many unique locations to critical acclaim, including Shostakovich’s The Tale of The Silly Baby Mouse using large-scale puppets in performances for families at the Bronx Zoo; Gershwin’s Blue Monday in the historic Cotton Club of Harlem; and Rameau’s Pygmalion in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, which explored new technology in opera through the use of Google Glass supertitles. Each production invites New Yorkers to explore their city in new and unique ways, while cultivating a new generation of opera audiences. For more information, visit https://osopera.org.

Follow On Site Opera on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @onsiteopera


The South Street Seaport Museum, located in the heart of the South Street Seaport Historic District in New York City, preserves and interprets the history of New York as a great port city. Founded in 1967, the Museum houses an extensive collection of works of art and artifacts, a maritime reference library, exhibition galleries and education spaces, working nineteenth century print shops, and an active fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of “Where New York Begins.” www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org 

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