Chagos exiles’ return and the forgotten jazz opera that tells their story
As Chagossians return to visit their island home after their eviction more than 50 years ago (‘Life was lovely’: Chagossian women head home 50 years after forced exile, 9 February), readers might like to listen to a magnificent opera put on by the BBC at the time: The Island by William Russo, with words by Adrian Mitchell, featuring Cleo Laine and Denis Quilley, and the Russo orchestra, led by Leon Calvert. It seems to have been lost to posterity, but can be heard via the Sea Green Singers website.
This is a jazz opera written and produced for BBC radio in the late 1960s, at around the time that Diego Garcia islanders were forcibly expelled to make way for a US airbase.
The opera combines the resources of a chamber orchestra and a big band. It contrasts the superficialities of US popular culture with the simplicity of the islanders. It was recorded from the radio, but the quality is sufficient to convey the beauty and power of the music and the tragedy of the story that it tells.
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