Alan Bush wrote four full-length operas and clearly regarded them as among his most important compositions. These were Wat Tyler
(composed between 1948 and 1950), Men of Blackmoor
(composed between 1954 and 1955), The Sugar Reapers
, or Guyana Johnny, as it was called in its German productions, (composed between 1961 and 1964), and Joe Hill: The Man Who Never Died
(composed between 1966 and 1968). The libretti of the first three are by his wife, Nancy Bush, and the libretto of the fourth is by the American writer and playwright, Barrie Stavis. In Britain, there was a BBC broadcast of Wat Tyler
in 1956, and a production in 1974. Men of Blackmoor
has had two amateur productions in Britain, by the Oxford University Operatic Society in 1960 and by the Bristol University Operatic Society in 1974, and a BBC broadcast in 1969. The two later operas have been broadcast by the BBC, The Sugar Reapers
in 1976 (a repeat of the 1968 German radio broadcast) and Joe Hill
in 1979. Joe Hill
has also been broadcast by the radio of the German Democratic Republic. All four operas have enjoyed many very successful professional productions abroad, in particular in the G.D.R. and the U.S.S.R.
Three of the operas have historical themes: Wat Tyler is set against the background of the 1381 Peasant Rising in Kent, Men of Blackmoor is set against the background of the struggle for better conditions of Northumbrian miners in the early 19th century, Joe Hill: The Man Who Never Died is taken from the life and death by execution of the famous American union leader, Joe Hill, who composed many well-known workers' songs. Only the third opera, The Sugar Reapers has a contemporary theme. It is set against the struggle for independence of the former British colony, British Guiana, now called Guyana. It features the various ethnic groups, notably the African and Indian communities in British Guiana, and the first election in the colony in 1953, won by the People's Progressive Party.