August 28th - September 2nd, 2021

What Lies Beneath

Wavertree at South Street Seaport Museum

What Lies Beneath

presented at

The Tall Ship Wavertree
South Street Seaport Museum
Pier 16, foot of Fulton St.
New York, New York, 10038

Combining song, story, history and movement as we return to live performance, What Lies Beneath is a site-specific and immersive experience aboard the historical Wavertree, built in 1885, and used as a cargo ship before being acquired by the South Street Seaport Museum in 1968. 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. 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 DickWhat Lies Beneath is a series of six unique vignettes:

from Amistad composed by Anthony Davis to a libretto by Thulani Davis

(Staged Premiere)
composed by Juliana Hall to a libretto by Caitlin Vincent

(East Coast Premiere)
by Damien Geter

from Billy Budd composed by Benjamin Britten to a libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier

composed by John Ireland to a poem by John Masefield
World Premiere arrangement by James Davis Jr.

from Riders to the Sea composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams
based on the play of the same name by John Millington Synge



Saturday, August 28th, 2021 at 6pm
Sunday, August 29th, 2021 at 6pm
Monday, August 30th, 2021 at 6pm
Tuesday, August 31st, 2021 at 6pm
Wednesday, September 1st, 2021 at 6pm
Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 at 6pm

General Admission, Suggested Donation -$40
Tickets will go on sale on July 12, 2021 at 12pm Eastern.


  • The audience will be divided in half and guided by ushers around the ship to view each of the performance vignettes, coming together for select moments in the program.
  • The performance will take place outside, on the deck of Wavertree
  • Seating will be provided for all audience members in each performance section.
  • Access to Wavertree requires climbing a small set of stairs and an angled gangway.
  • The Wavertree is not an ADA-accessible venue.
  • Running time: Approximately 75 minutes
  • Language: English


  • Audience members will be required to provide proof of full vaccination at the entry to the tall ship Wavertree regardless of age. OSO will NOT require testing of audience members. OSO 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 OSO will provide hand sanitation areas.
  • What Lies Beneath will be performed completely outside on the deck of the tall ship Wavertree
  • For complete health and safety protocols, click here.


On Site Opera does not offer refunds for ticket purchases for this production. Ticket exchanges are possible with at least 48 hours notice, pending availability.


A Discussion Exploring What Lies Beneath
Tues, Aug 17 | 7:30pm | Virtual | Free
The South Street Seaport Museum will host an online conversation with artists and members of the creative team about what it takes to create an opera on the main deck of a historic ship. How do composers choose which stories they tell? What is it like to produce live performances in today’s climate? The discussion will be presented virtually, broadcast from onboard Wavertree, with panelists joining from various locations. A brief Q&A will follow. This event is free and open to all, regardless of whether or not you plan on seeing What Lies Beneath.

Sign up for this FREE event below and receive the Zoom link 24 hours prior:

Hero photo by Paul Margolis
Pier 16, John Street, New York, NY, USA

Our Venue Partner

The 1885 ship Wavertree has a well-documented and fascinating history. Built in Southampton, Great Britain, she circled the globe four times in her career, carrying a wide variety of cargoes. The ship called on New York in 1896, no doubt one of hundreds like her berthed in the city. In 1910, after thirty-five years of sailing, she was caught in a Cape Horn storm that tore down her masts and ended her career as a cargo ship. She was salvaged and used as a floating warehouse and then a sand barge in South America, where the waterfront workers referred to her as “el gran Valero,” the great sailing ship, because even without her masts she was obviously a great windjammer. She was saved by the Seaport Museum in 1968 and towed to New York to become the iconic centerpiece of the “Street of Ships” at South Street. The 130-year-old Wavertree, built of riveted wrought iron, is an archetype of the sailing cargo 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.



This production is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

“The Unknown Is My Realm” from Amistad composed by Anthony Davis to a libretto by Thulani Davis; presented under license by G. Schirmer Inc. and Associated Music Publishers, copyright owners.
“Ahab” composed by Juliana Hall to a libretto by Caitlin Vincent; Produced by permission of ECS Publishing Group, St. Louis, MO. Sole Agent for E. C. Schirmer Music Company, Publisher and Copyright Owner.
1619: A Song Cycle composed by Damien Geter is presented through special arrangement with DG Music: Sans Fear Publishing Revised narration written by Damien Geter was commissioned by On Site Opera for What Lies Beneath.
“O Beauty, O Handsomeness” from Billy Budd composed by Benjamin Britten to a libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier; by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., publisher and copyright owner.
“Sea Fever” composed by John Ireland to a poem by John Masefield.
“Maurya’s Lament” from Riders to the Sea composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams based on the play of the same name by John Millington Synge; licensed by arrangement with Oxford University Press.

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