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CAPAB Opera was formed in Cape Town as one of the principal arts segments of the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB).


Established in 1963.

From 1963 to 1971, CAPAB staged their operas mainly in the Alhambra Theatre and Little Theatre, the latter used especially for productions in conjunction with the UCT Opera Company. In May 1971, the Nico Malan Theatre Complex, with its 1 204-seater opera house, became the home of CAPAB.

CAPAB staged eight to ten opera productions per year. During the first twenty years of CAPAB’s existence, it performed predominantly Italian repertoire. German operas by Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss were the second most performed operas, while Bizet’s Carmen was staged regularly and was popular with audiences.

Often the CAPAB Opera company would tour the province as “Opera for All”, staging scenes or excerpts from operas.

With the demise of apartheid and the associated socio-political changes in South Africa in the 1990s, this decade would bring an array of changes for CAPAB Opera, and by the end of the decade, the opera company would cease to exist. CAPAB Opera closed in 1997, becoming Cape Town Opera, an independent, nonprofit organisation.


  • Murray Dickie was appointed Artistic Director of CAPAB Opera in 1982. Dickie was responsible for developing singers from chorus members to principal singers, as well as employing the company’s first two coloured soloists, Virginia Davids and Sidwell Hartman, who had been young members of the EOAN Group.
  • David Matheson was resident producer with CAPAB Opera from 1978 to 1984.
  • Angelo Gobbato was appointed Director of CAPAB Opera in January 1989, and continued as Director until 1999 when CAPAB Opera closed.

CAPAB Opera and Apartheid

At the start of the 1980s, coloured people were allowed as chorus singers at CAPAB, but black people were not able to receive training as opera singers or perform on an opera stage. Soprano Virginia Davids, later professor of singing at the University of Cape Town, was the first singer of colour to play a lead role for CAPAB, namely the title role in Verdi’s Aida in 1988.

Choral Training Programme

In the early 1990s, Angelo Gobbato went into townships across South Africa and auditioned singers for CAPAB’s Choral Training Programme, in which specifically young black voices would be trained while they had the opportunity to sing in the opera chorus in productions.

By 1996, the training programme had already delivered a number of soloists who could perform leading roles. Because of the great number of black opera singers, CAPAB Opera was able to perform Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, because the composer had stipulated that only black singers may perform the lead roles. Over the next twenty years, this opera became one of Cape Town Opera’s signature productions to be staged abroad in, among other countries, France, Germany and Argentina.

An Africanist aproach

The increase in number of black singers at CAPAB, meant that the standard repertoire had to be reconsidered and new works developed. The choice of repertoire remained based on the quality of the available voices and their ability to sing and interpret the roles and operas but while the standard repertoire of Verdi, Mozart and Puccini remained in the company’s repertoire, it was now possible to stage operas featuring more diverse casts. From 1994, CAPAB Opera supported Africanist interpretations of standard repertoire, and commissioned composers to write operas that are set locally, relate local stories and address local issues.



1965: CAPAB's first opera, The Bartered Bride, was presented on 8 February 1965 in the Alhambra Theatre; The Beggar’s Opera; Così fan tutte

1966: Eugene Onegin; Il matrimonio segreto; Così fan tutte

1967: Manon Lescaut; Carmen; Rita; The Old Maid and the Thief

1968: Turandot; Tosca; Martha; Carmen

1969: Lucia di Lammermoor; La bohème; Die Fledermaus; The Marriage of Figaro

1970: The Tales of Hoffmannn; Fidelio; Un ballo in maschera; Falstaff; Tosca

1971: Aida; Madama Butterfly; Die Zauberflöte

1972: Don Giovanni; Madama Butterfly; The White Horse Inn; Die Fledermaus; The Tales of Hoffmann; Don Pasquale

1973: Die Lustige Witwe/The Merry Widow; Aida; La traviata; The Marriage of Figaro; Bluebeard’s Castle/Gianni Schicchi; Rigoletto; Cinderella (La cenerentola)

1974: Carmen; La bohème; La traviata; Così fan tutte; Turandot; Hansie en Grietjie; Il barbiere di Siviglia; Die Fledermaus

1975: La périchole; Die Fledermaus; Susanna’s Secret; Lucia di Lammermoor; Un ballo in maschera; La bohème; Don Carlos; L’elisir d’amore

1976: Der Fliegende Holländer; Hansie en Grietjie; Rigoletto; Il barbiere di Siviglia; The Marriage of Figaro; Tosca; Norma; Carmen; La traviata

1977: La périchole; La traviata; Die Fledermaus; Otello; L’elisir d’amore; Falstaff

1978: Der Fliegende Holländer; Don Carlos; Fidelio; Die Fledermaus; Die Towerfluit; Madama Butterfly; Cavalleria rusticana/Gianni Schicchi

1979: The Merry Widow; Eugene Onegin; Tosca; La traviata; Nabucco; The Tales of Hoffmann; The Italian Girl in Algiers

1981: Rigoletto

1982: Tristan und Isolde

1985: Don Giovanni, Aida, La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Faust

1986: Le Nozze di Figaro, Der Fliegende Holländer, Cavalleria Rusticana, Gianni Schicchi, Der Rosenkavalier, Die Fledermaus

1987: Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Falstaff, Madama Butterfly, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Turandot

1988: Rigoletto, Die Zauberflöte, Aida, Le Nozze di Figaro, Otello

1989: Carmen, Lohengrin, La Traviata, Die Lustige Witwe

1990: Fidelio, Don Carlo, The Rape of Lucretia, Der Freischütz, L'elisir d'amore, La Bohème, Hänsel und Gretel

1991: The Consul, Der Rosenkavalier, Aida, Tosca, Così Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Belle Hélène

1992: Tristan und Isolde, William Tell, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Bohème, Il Turco in Italia, Il Trovatore, Die Lustige Witwe, Amahl and the Night Visitors

1993: Peter Grimes, Der Fliegende Holländer, Madama Butterfly, Don Giovanni, Aida, Die Fledermaus, Amahl and the Night Visitors

1994: Die Zauberflöte, Fidelio, La Traviata, Così Fan Tutte, Turandot

1995: Nabucco, Enoch, Prophet of God, La Tragedie de Carmen, La Cenerentola, Tosca, Die Zauberflöte, La Bohème

1996: Porgy and Bess, Madama Butterfly, La Tragedie de Carmen, Turandot

1997: Lucia di Lammermoor, Sacred Bones, La Traviata, La Bohème Noir

1998: Don Pasquale, Così Fan Tutte, Norma, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Dialogues des Carmélites, Rigoletto


1978: Showboat

1979: Showboat; Fiddler on the Roof

1992: Poison

1996: Jesus Christ Superstar

For more information, see Cape Performing Arts Board

For an overview on opera in South Africa, see Opera


Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

Alexandra Xenia Sabina Mossolow. 2003. The career of South African soprano Nellie du Toit, born 1929. Unpublished Masters thesis. University of Stellenbosch.

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