Nigeria Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Sherman writes libretto for opera "Biafra"
The world premiere of the opera, "Biafra," was presented at the Artsgarden in downtown Indianapolis on December 6. Sherman wrote the libretto for the opera, based in part on his book, War Stories: A Memoir of Nigeria and Biafra, in which he provides details of his work with the International Committee of the Red Cross during the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. This program fulfills the requirements for a presentation by Indianapolis resident John Sherman for his Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship received from the Arts Council of Indianapolis in 2005.
A "stunning array of talent" has been assembled to bring the opera to life. The leading role of Mary Okonkwo, a Red Cross nurse, is portrayed by Paula Ingram who received rave reviews for her performances in London's West End and in the PBS production of "Porgy and Bess." In the opera, Ms. Ingram wore the actual Red Cross badge worn by Sherman during the months he served on the food/medical team near the front lines in what had been the Eastern Region of Nigeria, then Biafra, and, when he was there, once again a part of Nigeria. Also in the set was a full-sized reproduction of a Biafran propaganda poster that Sherman found in one of the former elementary schools where they held a clinic. The sets have been lent for the performance by the Indianapolis Opera. A dozen dancers from the Kenyetta' Dance Company performed in a dream sequence, lending their talents to the setting in a clinic in an abandoned school in the heart of war-torn Biafra. The opera's logo is based on the Biafran flag – in that flag, the middle bar had a yellow "rising sun" that was the symbol of the secessionist republic that survived for 30 months before surrendering and becoming, once again, Nigeria. Read more and comment on the story.
The Opera is based on Sherman's Book "War Stories"
John Sherman had been a Peace Corps teacher in the Eastern Region of Nigeria for nearly a year when the region seceded and became the Republic of Biafra. He spent his second year in the Peace Corps in Malawi, then returned to Nigeria to work with the Red Cross. War Stories is based on a diary he kept in the Red Cross, with flashbacks to his Peace Corps/Nigeria days. Sherman, now a resident of Indianapolis, is a freelance writer and the author of three books of poetry and two pictorial history books on Santa Fe and Taos.
An Excerpt from "War Stories"
Every night we approach the roadblocks at about the same time, and every night it is the same reaction from the men guarding them: Screaming soldiers holding loaded guns which probably have their safeties off (if they have such devices at all), surrounded by blinding lights and more soldiers. What's worse, too often the soldiers holding those guns are drunk, so that the weapons are waving wildly about in the air.
I scream out, "Red Cross! Red Cross!" when I am challenged, but the goddamned soldiers can't hear me because they're too busy shouting for me to identify myself. One night, a few weeks ago, I got out of my Land Rover (something I have to do most nights, anyway), walked up to the man who had finally realized who I was, and said loudly, "I come through here every bloody night! At the same time, too, damnit! Why are you doing this?"