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‘Opera has been Dying Down Slowly Even Before Covid-19 in South Africa’: Mapping South African Opera After 1994

Lena van der Hoven


This article seeks to address the necessary understanding of the general situation of opera production in South Africa in the last few decades, which to date is a research desideratum, in order to consider the short-term impact of the pandemic on the South African opera scene. It is therefore structured in two parts. Part one works towards an empirical history of South African opera by carving out some major topics for a South African opera historiography post-1994, in which I identify those agencies that have been producing opera and commissioning new opera compositions since 1994. Additionally, I highlight some symptomatic phenomena of the South African opera market, as the predominance of opera concerts over full-length staged opera performances, the predominance of performances of short operas and the precarious situation of opera singers, which leads among other things to an increasing number
of newly established opera companies. In the second part I address the opera scene within an understanding of pre-pandemic trajectories. It will be led by the following questions: Does the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate the situation of opera production in South Africa? What is the situation like for opera companies and singers? And how are opera companies and artists responding to the situation creatively and practically? This article suggests that already existing characteristics of the opera industry will continue their negative trends, but that the pre-existing precarity of South Africa’s opera scene might indicate that the opera productions of ‘smaller’ companies will resume to a certain degree as before.

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print ISSN: 2223-635X