The Tinker’s Curse


Children’s opera for 6 adult soloists, 2 children’s choirs, 10-piece ensemble and 6-piece children’s percussion ensemble

Libretto by Joan Aiken

The Tinker’s Curse was written with a grant from 1YC Telethon Trust for the Year of the Child while I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts, United Kingdom.

About the work

The Tinker’s Curse was tailored for performance in Cumbria, United Kingdom, involving local schools and musicians. Because of publishing deadlines not being met, the performances were cancelled. The story is particularly appropriate for Northern England or Scotland, but maybe not appropriate elsewhere.

This opera is dedicated to my parents, Marjorie and Ivan Whitehead.


Act 1

A travelling tinker, seeking shelter in a moorland house, is killed for his possessions and his body is thrown in the lake, and his angry ghost, lamenting, promises ill fortune to any who hear his voice.

Many years later a young couple settle in the house. When his wife is in labour, the husband, who wants a son, runs off to fetch the doctor. His wife hears the ghost of the tinker, and when her husband returns, his wife has died in childbirth, but the child, a girl, is alive. The husband refuses to accept the situation.

14 years later, the child, Helen, who has been born deaf, is teased by the local children, and admonished by her father, who considers her useless and lazy. She tries to play with the other children, but it is discovered that she has the ability to find what is lost. She is befriended by Andy, who explains how people should talk to her.

The doctor comes past, and recognises the place where the tragedy took place many years before. Eventually, with Andy’s help, he can talk to Helen, who helps him find his watch, lost 14 years before. The doctor tests her hearing, and says he can give her an operation which will restore her hearing.

Act 2

The second act begins in the hospital, with the nurses and matron. The operation takes place successfully — it’s an operation quite outdated today — and everything is finally resolved back home outside the cottage.


The cast consists of 6 adult soloists and 2 childrens’ choirs.


The opera is scored for string and wind quintets with childrens’ percussion (6 players). It can be accompanied by piano.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

The Tinker’s Curse — SOUNZ