Osman Bey and The Snails


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Osman Bey and The Snails

Image: Robert Golden

this year, 2022, he was given a life sentence in Turkey for crimes it is obvious to everyone, he didn’t commit, except the judges. This online opera was made in April 2020 and we have just changed the dates to acknowledge the length of time that Osman has been held. 

The fight goes on for his release.


In 2014 Nigel Osborne, composer and human aid worker and Tina Ellen Lee Artistic Director of Opera Circus were invited to a session on Building Peace through the Arts as part of the Salzburg Global Seminars.

We met and heard many inspiring people, one of whom was Osman Kavala, a Human Rights Campaigner from Turkey.

As a result over the last couple of years we have been part of a small team of people, who are part of many such teams and groups, fighting to have Osman released from a Turkish prison where he has been unjustly kept in solitary confinement for nearly 1000 days.

Osman Kavala

Recently a story came out about Osman and his pet snails.


Someone in our team casually commented to Nigel,…why don’t you write an opera about this wonderful story? And so Nigel did.

The Snails: Nadine Benjamin and Lore Lixenberg

The English subtitled version can be found on Vimeo here.

The Turkish subtitled version and the Youtube links can be found on the press release here.

A work of true collaboration began with numbers of the team helping to write the text; Nigel writing the music over two nights; Opera Circus asking some of the brilliant singers who have worked with the company for many years if they would give their time; a wonderful new partner with TCFT, the youth arts programme of the company, Mikael Hegelund Martin of Beats across Borders in Denmark cleaning up the sound; Andy Morton helping the singers into their roles and Robert Golden, film maker/ photographer working across the globe under our “lock down” making the film. Everyone worked for free and without ego; the purpose to free Osman.

Darren Abrahams who sang the part of Osman said, 

” It was a real honour to be asked to sing the role of Osman in this opera. I don’t think I appreciated the technical difficulties of putting together an opera in lockdown when we began. Having to be actor, singer, director, camera, lighting and sound operator at the same time as interacting with imaginary other singers sitting in kitchens on the other side of the world was a very interesting challenge – a bit like when you see Hollywood actors reacting to invisible CGI characters on a green screen. But the result is beyond expectation (thanks to the skills of Robert Golden and Mikael Hegelund Martisen). I hope it delights and entertains while also highlighting the case of a great human who deserves his freedom”.

Osman Bey and the Snails film in English on Vimeo here.
You tube and Turkish subtitled versions can be found on the press release here.

The cast are:

Osman: Darren Abrahams
The Lawyer: Robert Rice
The Snails: 1. Nadine Benjamin / 2. Lore Lixenberg
The Prison Guard: Andy Morton
Piano: Anthony Ingle

Lore Lixenberg, a Snail said, 

“The UK had been in lockdown for around 6 weeks , Osman had been in prison for almost 1000 days when I was invited by Nigel, Tina and Robert to have the honour to be served to him as a singing snail in his bowl of rocket salad. I was mindful of his plight during the whole process of my small part in the creation of this mini-opera. This was absolutely the focus.
It was the ultimate collaboration over many countries with people I have worked with for years, also with a brilliant soundman who I felt as though I had worked with for many years as well.

On a personal level, it was wonderful to be part of an opera again, as all my projects for the summer vanished in 48 hours after the lockdown was announced, as this was for everyone. It was a joy to work in a team again, to be reminded that making opera exists still.
The technical issues I encountered (creating a total blackout in a white bright, domestic space full of clutter, trying to get the lighting right with a couple of music stand lights, etc), were a challenge, especially as even in lockdown the desire for perfection and excellence is like a homing instinct, anything less than perfection is a stress. But the challenges the performer faced were nothing compared to the amazing alchemy that Robert Golden performed in knitting these disparate mobile phone clips together into a seamless coherent whole at the same time keeping a strong sense of his inimitable style. Why don’t we just do it ‘zoom’ style, I kept asking myself? My question was answered when I saw the result of the work, a smooth poetic whole, that really does justice to the multifaceted, multilingual, beautiful, tough music of Nigel Osborne.
The amazing work that Mikael ( the soundman who I have never actually met!) was also at such a high level I can only take my hat off in admiration.
It was also really gorgeous to be working, however remote, with my friends again. It was maybe a little painful because no matter how lucky we are to live in a time where communications are so easy, what I really wanted was to be in a rehearsal room with my friends stinking of rehearsal. It made me think again of Osman. How long since he has been in a room with his friends and family. I hope Nigel and Robert’s gentle activism helps to get him out of prison.”

Anthony Ingle is a brilliant and unique musician, one of a kind and a superb improviser. Anthony has worked with Opera Circus for most of its life and is the pianist of improvisatory genius for Impropera, the renowned improv opera company that grew out of Opera Circus in the 90’s.
Anthony’s comments on working with the “Snail Opera Team”, “It was a remarkably steep learning curve in terms of the technical requirements (I believe for most of us) but, given the impetus of Osman’s situation, the power of Nigel’s writing and the unique world circumstances, the perfect time to give focus to such learning. And the prospect of being part of something which has such potential to make a difference far beyond its immediate aim, with trusted, respected and beloved colleagues, sharpened the focus still further.”

Osman Kavala: Darren Abrahams
The Lawyer: Robert Rice

The opera will be shared and distributed through Amnesty International, PEN, Open Democracy and by everyone who loves and believes in justice and freedom.

Please share this blog or the official press release, whichever is appropriate and let us create more global support for Osman’s release. Maybe now in this current climate of world collaboration fighting other injustices, Racism through Black Lives Matter, Climate Change led by Greta Thunberg and tens of thousands of young activists or the overwhelming kindness and care for those affected by the tragedy of the Pandemic. Perhaps a global wave can free Osman and others like him, the journalists, writers and others fighting for social justice. Further information can be found on the web site for Osman.

Two weeks after Osman’s was jailed Anthony Barnett, co-founder of openDemocracy wrote this article.

The Prison Guard: Andy Morton

Nadine Benjamin (a Snail) wrote, 

“As someone who is quite severely dyspraxic, I knew that creating art in this way would be a challenge for me. The number of emails, telephone calls, video calls to learn how to actively create a work that would have the authenticity running through it required me to meet every one one of my struggles head on. While doing so, I kept a picture of Osman in front of me knowing that I was not alone in this challenge – that every one of us was meeting an opportunity to grow and surrender to the moment. Nigel’s writing has always had the ability to make sense of the world in ways that are rare and unique. This piece to me is in celebration of an artist and I believe all our artists are here to make the world a better place.”

This is a work of art. Osman and the lawyer are real people, the prison guard in our story is a fictional character. The snails are themselves.

Osman sent these words to us, 

“I find the snails’ lines quite realistic, but I cannot say the same thing about the portrayal of the conditions here in my prison. The guards and other employees here talk and act with civility”

Full Press Release: https://www.operacircusuk.com/osman-bey-and-the-snails-press-release.html