John Brown’s Truth a Musically-Improvised Opera by William Crossman

Commemorating 150th Anniversary of the 1859 Raid on Harper’s Ferry

Berkeley, CA, February 09, 2010 --( Exactly 150 years ago, in 1859, John Brown, a white/Euro-American anti-slavery abolitionist, led 21 Africans and white/Euro-Americans in a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This American Folk-Hero has been called “the most controversial of all 19th Century Americans.”

Composer William Crossman examines this historical figure with his opera John Brown’s Truth, which runs Friday, March 12th at 8 PM at the Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, and Sunday, March 14th at 3 PM at the Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd. in Oakland, and Sunday, April 25th at 4 PM at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street in San Francisco. William Crossman created the musical conception and wrote the libretto for John Brown’s Truth, the first full-length musically improvised opera. Tickets may be purchased at, by calling (800) 838-3006, or at the door. For more information, visit

John Brown’s Truth has an extraordinary cast of classical & jazz singers, musicians, dancers, and spoken-word artists. The cast includes: India Cooke, Raymond Nat Turner, Eliza O’Malley, Lewis Jordan, Akinyele Sadiq, Linda Johnson, Maria Medina, Cheryl Schwartz, Henry Mobley, Zigi Lowenberg, Lea Weinstein, William Crossman, Isabel O’Malley-Krohn, Nora Hylton, and the Linda Johnson Dancers. The musical conception includes having a different singer step into the John Brown role at the start of each new scene, with the previous John Brown singer returning to the chorus. Male and female singers of diverse ethnic backgrounds will perform the John Brown role.

In a radical departure from traditional opera, the libretto is written, but the music is not. All music—including that performed by the principals, the chorus, and the orchestra—is entirely improvised on the spot. This means that each performance of the opera is musically unique, newly recreated “in the moment.”

The opera covers selected events, all within the year 1859, in the life of anti-slavery abolitionist John Brown as he prepares and carries out his raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and, afterwards, as he is put on trial for the raid. Though the timeline of events depicted is historically accurate, the libretto is a mostly fictionalized rendering of conversations John Brown might have had—and in some cases actually did have, according to historical reports—expressing his actual beliefs, intentions, and plans. The opera is receiving its first performances on the 150th anniversary of the very events it is depicting.

Brown’s plan was to take a large number of guns to use as defensive weapons to defend his greater plan for ending the Southern system of African slavery. That greater plan was not to foment an armed insurrection by enslaved Africans—though most history books assert that Brown did plan such an insurrection. Brown planned, instead, to create a massive “underground railroad” system similar to that established by Harriet Tubman. However, while Tubman guided smaller groups of Africans out of the South to freedom in Canada, Brown planned to guide thousands to Canada along a route of hidden Appalachian mountaintop bases. He envisioned that, as the South’s enslaved African workforce escaped, the Southern slave system would collapse. Brown’s raid failed, some of his men were killed, while he and others were captured, tried, and executed. Brown hoped his plan would prevent a Civil War, but today his raid is viewed as a pivotal event that sparked the Civil War, ending slavery.

John Brown’s Truth is a production of Mimesis, a performing arts organization, a California non-profit 501(c)(3).

For more information, images, or to arrange interviews, contact Lori Shepherd at (510) 967-4691

For Calendar Editors:

What: John Brown’s Truth, a musically improvised opera

Friday, 03/12/2010, 8 PM, Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Sunday, 03/14/2010, 3 PM, Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland
Sunday, 04/25/2010, 4 PM, Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco.

Cost: Friday, 03/12/2010, 8 PM, Live Oak Theatre, General $20., Students $12.
Sunday, 03/14/2010, 3 PM, Eastside Cultural Center, General $15., Youth free.

Sunday, 04/25/2010, 4 PM, Community Music Center, General $15., Students $10.

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