Once there was a penguin named Emperor born on the Antarctic coastline in the Southern Hemisphere. Unlike most penguins, he loved to sing—even if his penguin friends and family didn’t appreciate his talent.
“Aaah, aaah, la di da, la di da, la di da di da,” he sang, floating on the ice in the cold ocean water.
“Oh, Emperor, is that you singing again?” Pete, one of his brother penguins teased him. “Penguins don’t sing.”
“Penguins do sing!” Emperor argued. “I am a penguin, and I sing. That’s the only proof you need.”
Then, one cold winter day when the sun was shining bright, he came across a pamphlet drifting in the ocean.
“What’s this?” he said, grabbing it with his beak and pulling it onto his thick ice raft.
As he waddled to his igloo on the Antarctic shore, he spread the pamphlet across the ice-room table.
“‘The Marriage of Figaro’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City,” Emperor said, reading the pamphlet aloud.
As he studied the booklet, he noticed a male vocalist named Alberto Matteo dressed in a black and white outfit.
“He’s dressed like me in a penguin suit with tails,” Emperor exclaimed. “We both love to sing! I’m born to sing the Opera. I’m already wearing my own penguin suit. I must go to New York City to Lincoln Center!”
“What’s that Emperor?” Blubber, his father said, snatching the pamphlet from him. “This man is dressed like a penguin!”
“Papa, he sings the Opera, and so do I,” Emperor said, “I’m leaving for New York City in the morning!”
“What do you mean you’re leaving?” Oceana, his mother cried. “You’ll never make it! You’ll drown in the ocean.”
“Your voice is so beautiful,” said Carol, one of his sister penguins. “The whole world deserves to hear it!”
“Why can’t you just be a penguin like the rest of us?” his father grumbled. “Why do you have to be special?”
“You just bring me so much joy!” his mother said in tears. “You can’t leave us! You’re my baby.”
“I must be courageous and fulfill my destiny,” Emperor proclaimed. “Once I build an igloo in New York City and start a career, then the whole family can visit me in North America. Maybe you can even live there with me!”
The next morning, the Antarctic penguin community stood on the shoreline and waved goodbye to Emperor.
“Goodbye, everyone, goodbye!” he called, tearing up a bit, as he watched his family and friends shake their heads at him.
“I hope you make it to New York City in one piece,” his father chided him. “Who wants to sing the Opera?”
“I’m dressed in a penguin suit, too, but I don’t want to sing the Opera,” his brother Pete said. “I’ll miss you!”
“I love you so much!” his mother called. “I hope your ice raft doesn’t melt when you sail through the tropics.”
“I’m going to come visit you in New York City,” Carol cheered. “Send us a message when you get there.”
After saying farewell, Emperor set off on his ice raft with the pamphlet toward the Atlantic Ocean. Although the dark nights were lonely and stormy, he stayed on course for North America through the winds.
“I’m bound for the Metropolitan Opera House where I’m going to sing the Opera like Alberto Matteo,” he sang.
“You have such a lovely voice,” said a dolphin that suddenly swam to his side in the waves. “My name is Delfina Dominique. I like to sing, too. I’ve never met a penguin that can sing. What are you doing out here by yourself?”
“I’m on my way to New York Harbor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway,” Emperor said.
“Well, of course you are,” Delfina said. “I’ll swim with you until you get there to keep the sharks away!”
Delfina’s dolphin family jumped out of the waves, singing, and making merry noises in the ocean.
Every time a shark came near Emperor’s ice raft, the dolphins defended him with their hard noses, and Emperor just kept singing. “I’ll take the solos,” Emperor said, making up a new song with his adopted ocean family.
On one especially long day, an albatross smoking a cigar landed on his ice raft without introduction or warning.
“Oui, oui! My name is Jack. Might I just rest my wings awhile?” the bird said. “I’ve flown for days without landing.”
“Excuse me, sir, but this is my ice raft,” Emperor said, standing up straight and eyeing the bird.
“Any sailor that meets an albatross in the ocean is bound for disaster!” Delfina told Emperor in a whisper.
“Oh no! I have to make it to New York City. I can’t be delayed by a silly old bird,” Emperor said firmly.
“I’m the luckiest of all the albatross because I just met you,” the bird said. “I have nowhere else to land, so it’s better that we just get along on this journey. Besides, I can swoop down and grab fish from the ocean for you.”
“If you insist,” Emperor said, considering how tasty a fish or three might feel in his stomach.
As Delfina and her dolphin family kept the sharks away, Jack fished for supper for Emperor.
“I wonder how many octaves I have in my voice,” Emperor said, practicing his scales. “I’ve got at least three!”
He looked at his ice raft, noticing it had shrunk in half since leaving Antarctica. “I do hope I make it soon!”
“You can always ride on my back,” Delfina said, “but I think your ice raft will last. It’s soon winter in New York.”
Persevering through miles of endless ocean waves, Emperor arrived weeks later in the New York City Harbor. Although his ice raft had shrunk in the warmer Northern ocean water, he still had enough to stand on.
By that point, he had practiced hours and hours of Opera singing on the Atlantic Ocean waves. He floated around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, paddling to shore alongside the Staten Island Ferry.
“I’m so sad to say goodbye to you and your family, Delfina,” Emperor said, bending over to hug her in the ocean.
“I’m going with you to the Opera,” Jack said, accidentally cracking what was left of the ice raft. “I’m good luck!”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Jack,” Emperor said, balancing himself in the Harbor. As Jack popped a fish into Emperor’s mouth, he climbed up the steps of the New York Harbor pier. “I’ve arrived in one piece!”
“I’m going to send word to your family back home that you made it safely to New York,” Delfina said.
“Tell them that I love them and ask them to come see me perform,” he called as she swam away. “Thank you!”
As Emperor waddled his way into the big city, Jack searched for fish to pop into his mouth from fish tanks at the local seafood markets. “It’s almost just like fishing in the ocean,” Jack said to Emperor, not realizing his crime.
“I’m here everyone!” Emperor said to passersby, eventually reaching Times Square. “I was born in a penguin suit to sing the Opera. Don’t you love my one-of-a-kind bowtie? I knew I was bound for something special!”
However, most of the pedestrians shook their heads wondering what a penguin was doing on the sidewalk.
“Did you get out from the zoo?” one passerby said. “Maybe I should call the Central Park Zoo to get you!”
“You can go live in the Zoo, but I am destined for the Metropolitan Opera House,” the penguin said.
He waddled down the street as fast as he could to escape the New Yorkers and their screeching cars. Jack swooped down and temporarily picked Emperor up to escape an out-of-control motorist.
“I’ve found it at last!” the penguin said, standing in front of the Opera House’s five arched windows and fountain.
Walking to the front doors, he tried to budge them open until a manager said: “Sorry, we’re closed. Come back tomorrow for tickets. We open at 10 o’clock in the morning. I’m sure we can help you then . . .”
“Well, you see, I’m bound for the stage of the Opera House,” the penguin called through the glass. “Can you please tell me how to audition? I’ve been practicing for hours on my ice raft. I can start performing next week.”
Jack, who flew a little too close to the glass windows, knocked his head and nose-dived to the sidewalk.
“Penguins don’t sing buddy! You’re living in a fantasy,” the manager said, turning off the lights.
“Mister, as a matter of fact, penguins do sing,” Emperor said, crooning in front of the Opera House.
It was the most beautiful baritone voice to ever come out of a penguin, more pleasing than most human voices.
“He sings better than I do,” Jack said, popping his head up from the pavement. “Maybe this city is not for me!”
As the penguin kept singing, a crowd gathered near the fountain, watching with skepticism.
“Is that a penguin? I thought penguins lived in Antarctica. Maybe he should go back there,” an onlooker said.
“But his voice is so gorgeous and stunning,” another listener said, closing her eyes to his melody.
“Maybe he’s a child in a penguin suit,” someone else from the crowd said. “You never know these days!”
Then, the manager burst through the doors of the Opera House, saying: “Come back tomorrow morning for an audition. You deserve a chance! Everyone should get a fair shot. A penguin who can sing might just attract crowds. Just don’t bring that bird with you! Didn’t anyone ever tell you that an albatross is bad luck?”
“Thank you very much, sir!” Emperor said. “One day, I will sing with Alberto Matteo. It’s my destiny!”
“I’m the best luck there is!” Jack said, screeching at the manager. “I’m nothing but good luck!”
“We’ll see about that,” the manager said. “Let’s take one thing at a time. I can get the penguin an audition.”
“By any chance, could I spend the night sleeping in the Opera House, please?” the penguin said to the manager.
“You want to sleep here now? Isn’t an audition enough?” the manager said, scratching his beard.
“I’ve come all the way from Antarctica on my ice raft, and I haven’t had a chance yet to build an igloo,” the penguin said in the most earnest tone imaginable. “I’m afraid to spend the night alone in New York City.”
“If anyone ever finds out that I did this for you, I could get fired!” the manager said, cracking the door open.
“Please, I beseech thee with the utmost gratitude for your fine service to singers everywhere!” Emperor said.
Before the manager could agree, the albatross flew through the door, swinging it open for Emperor to enter.
“Fine! Go pick a soft chair in the audience! Just try not to snore! Be up and ready by 9 o’clock,” the manager said.
“Sir, I’m forever grateful for your kindness to me, a humble penguin,” Emperor said, rushing to find a chair.
“And make sure that bird stays out of trouble,” the manager said. “I don’t want to clean up any bird droppings!”
After a cozy night sleep in the Opera House auditorium with Jack at his side, Emperor awoke with anticipation.
He stood inside the stage door, sweating nervously and sipping ice water while waiting for his audition.
“I will now sing the part of Count Almaviva from ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’” Emperor said, clearing his throat.
After the penguin finished singing a gorgeous passage from the Opera, he bowed and stood with pride.
“If you don’t mind me asking, are you a penguin?” the casting director said, taking notes on his clipboard.
“Yes, sir, I am definitely a penguin,” Emperor said, straightening his tail with the best of manners.
“At least you’re already dressed to sing the Opera,” the casting director said, adjusting his glasses and squinting at Emperor. “It seems like it might be meant to be. You wouldn’t believe the fashion problems that we have around here. I’ve had to find penguin suits and tailcoats last minute to fit vocalists, and it causes nightmares.”
“I can only imagine the problem that improper attire might cause,” Emperor said, flaunting his suit.
“Mr. Penguin, you’re hired. You’ll start today as Alberto Matteo’s understudy. He’s the best,” the director said.
“Sir, I knew it was meant to be! I was born with this suit—born to sing, even though no one has known it but me until now,” Emperor said. “I can’t wait to start! Please tell Mr. Matteo that he’s my hero and inspiration.”
“Put me down!” Mr. Matteo yelled, as Jack carried him by the collar to Emperor’s side. “Penguins don’t sing!”
“Now, sing once more, Emperor,” Jack said as he dropped Mr. Matteo right in front of the penguin.
“Is that really a penguin?” Mr. Matteo said. “Are you kidding? How could a penguin be my understudy?”
“I already got the job, stupid bird!” Emperor said to Jack, swatting at his albatross wings.
Then he opened his mouth to croon out a lovely vocal passage with perfect pitch and vibrato.
“Gorgeous!” Mr. Matteo said, gasping in awe. “Absolutely amazing! I suppose everyone has to follow their dreams. It’s just like when I had to leave Italy to sing in America. I’ll teach you everything I know.”
Months later, with the help of the Dominique dolphin family, Emperor’s own family arrived in the New York City Harbor on their own ice rafts, eager to see him perform. The penguins waddled into the Opera House and sat in the front row for one of Emperor’s best performances. “We’re so proud of you!” his family cheered.
“Mama, Papa, Pete, Carol!” Emperor said, rushing from the stage after his performance. “I love you so much!”
As time passed, Emperor the Penguin became as famous as Alberto Matteo, not only for his voice, but his suit.
It all started because Emperor had enough courage to go on a journey alone on an ice raft through unchartered waters.
Copyright 2019 Jennifer Waters