Don Henry – an anti-fascist opera by Frank Nawrot

Post date: 21/08/2022

The recording of Frank Nawrot’s first opera, Don Henry, will be released on all podcast platforms on 23 August 2022. It is based on the true story of an American member of the International Brigade, presented here in a surreal and satirical, yet heart wrenching narrative. 

Here's a short trailer:

Listen to a 'single' from the recording called 'Die for Me': (In this scene, Don Henry's mother just discovered that her son lied about going on vacation in Europe to conceal his trip to Spain to fight in the civil war.)

Don Henry was a Dodge City native and University of Kansas student whose ideals led him to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Don was a young man when Mussolini and Hitler established fascist governments in Western Europe. He travelled to Spain, joining the International Brigades, to help prevent a fascist government from taking hold there as it had in Italy and Germany. Don knew the dangers of his ambition and so hid his real intentions by telling his family he was taking a vacation in Europe. On his first day of battle, Don was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the chest as he tended to an injured comrade. 

In this recording, the story of Don Henry is told from three asynchronous perspectives: 1) a 21st-century 24-hour news channel programme, 2) a letter written by Don Henry to his family in Kansas, and 3) the frontlines of the war as told by Salaria Kea, a nurse from Akron, Ohio. 

The words of this opera are taken from historical documents, poems written by British International Brigaders, and original lyrics by Frank Nawrot. The historical documents are the University of Kansas Board of Regents press release commissioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Don Henry’s letter. 

Composer and performer Frank Nawrot.

Don Henry stars Neal Long, Gretchen Pille, Rachael Rule, and Frank Nawrot. 

The impetus for creating a piece that examines the cause of anti-fascism is the increasing visibility and normalisation of white nationalism in the US. In 2018, neo-Nazis and American white nationalists ran for political office more than any other time in the history of the USA. According to Paul Robeson, an African American opera singer and activist whose career spanned the 1920s-1960s, artists must take sides:

Every artist, every scientist, must decide now where [they stand]. [They] have no alternative. There is no standing above the conflict on Olympian heights. There are no impartial observers…through the propagation of false ideas of racial and national superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear.

His words call on all artists to use their place in the public sphere responsibly. Don Henry is a response to Robeson’s decree.

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