The first opera of Frederick Delius, Koanga, premieres at the Stadttheater in Elberfeld, Germany

Frederick Delius is widely regarded as one of the most influential British composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although he spent most of his life in France, his music was heavily inspired by his time in the United States and South America. In 1897, Delius composed his first opera, Koanga, which premiered at the Stadttheater in Elberfeld, Germany.

Koanga is a tragic tale of love, slavery, and revenge set in Louisiana in the late 18th century. The opera’s libretto was written by Delius himself, and it tells the story of the African prince Koanga, who is captured and sold into slavery. Koanga falls in love with a beautiful slave woman named Palmyra, but their love is forbidden by her owner, the cruel plantation owner Don José.

Delius’s score for Koanga is a stunning blend of African American folk music and European classical music. The opera’s opening chorus, A la misère (In misery), is a haunting melody sung by the slaves as they work in the fields. The opera’s centerpiece is the duet between Koanga and Palmyra, La Calinda, which features a beautiful melody inspired by traditional African rhythms.

The premiere of Koanga was a significant event in Delius’s career. The opera was well-received by audiences and critics alike, and it established Delius as a rising star in the world of classical music. The performance was conducted by the German composer Fritz Cassirer, and the cast included the American soprano Marie Sundelius as Palmyra and the English baritone Robert Radford as Koanga.

Despite its initial success, Koanga was not performed again until 1925, when it was revived in London by the British National Opera Company. Since then, the opera has been performed sporadically, and it remains one of Delius’s lesser-known works.

Nevertheless, Koanga’s significance in the history of opera cannot be overstated. It was one of the first operas to incorporate African American music and culture into a European classical form, paving the way for other composers to explore the rich and diverse musical traditions of the African diaspora. Delius’s achievement with Koanga was nothing short of groundbreaking, and it remains a testament to his artistic vision and musical genius.