EOAN Group

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The EOAN Group is an opera and theatre company founded in Cape Town in 1933 under guidance of Helen Southern-Holt.

Usually spelled with capitals, it is also found the Eoan Group in some sources.



The EOAN Group was founded by Helen Southern-Holt in District Six in 1933. It functioned as a cultural and welfare organisation. The name EOAN derives from the Greek word ‘Eos’ which means ‘dawn’, referring to the enlightenment it strove to bring to individuals.

Initially the group had their central offices in the Isaac Ochberg Hall in District Six. Fifteen branches were established throughout the Cape Peninsula by the mid-1950s, offering a wide range of activities that included ballet, folk dance, speech, drama, singing, painting and sewing. Lectures and talks on literature, arts, leadership and marriage guidance were also presented. From 1956 until the late 1970s EOAN featured an active amateur opera section responsible for numerous arts festivals, annual opera seasons and tours throughout South Africa (1960 and 1965) and the United Kingdom (1975).

Opera and Ballet

In 1940, the brothers John and Dan Ulster started a choir for the group. At the invitation of Helen Southern-Holt, Joseph Salvatore Manca joined the Music Section as choral conductor in 1943. Manca developed the small choir into an amateur opera company.

The Eoan Group put on their first complete operetta, A Slave in Araby in the Cape Town City Hall in 1949. The EOAN Group presented their first full-scale opera in 1956. This production was followed by annual opera seasons, arts festivals and tours locally and abroad. Their repertoire included works such as Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and La Traviata, Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Georges Bizet’s Carmen, Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme as well as Il trovatore, Die Fledermaus, Madama Butterfly, L’elisir d’amore and Il barbiere di Siviglia. For all the opera productions, the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra was hired.

The EOAN Group also performed the first full-length indigenous ballet by a local composer for a South African ballet group - The Square by Stanley Glasser. It is a depiction of gang life in District Six and was choreographed by David Poole, with Johaar Mosaval in the principal role.

There was a close cooperation between the EOAN Group and the University of Cape Town Opera Company, with involvement form the university's Gregorio Fiasconaro, Stephen de Villiers (from the university’s Art Department) and Stanley Glasser.

In 1975, the EOAN Group performed its last opera , Verdi’s La traviata.


The EOAN Group achieved great heights despite working under the constraints of Apartheid. The EOAN Group consisted of only coloured singers, because apartheid legislation forbade them to perform with white singers. Intensifying Apartheid legislation since the 1960s affected the Group’s morale, although they continued to perform whenever they could before mixed audiences. Forced to accept financial support from the Coloured Affairs Department, their standing and support in the community suffered. Eventually Apartheid legislation saw the total prohibition of mixed audiences. Complying with these requirements, the EOAN Group applied for permits to perform in the City Hall for mixed audiences from 1966 and onwards. Despite these conditions, the successes of the Group were widely reflected in ticket sales and in the press.

Jospeh Stone Auditorium

After the destruction of District Six, the EOAN Group moved to their new premises in Athlone, now known as the Joseph Stone Theatre, named after its benefactor who donated R100 000 towards the building of the theatre. The Joseph Stone Theatre, comprising various practise rooms, studios and offices, was inaugurated on 21 November 1969. The move to Athlone also removed the EOAN Group from the hub of Cape Town’s cultural life. Due to a combination of political repression, the renovation of the City Hall where they continued presenting their annual opera seasons and financial difficulties, producing opera became increasingly difficult for EOAN in the 1970s. After Manca’s resignation in 1977, the demise of the EOAN Opera Group was evident.


1947: The Swan of Tuonela (ballet), conducted by Walter Swanson, with Johaar Mosaval in the lead role (14 October 1947).

1949: A Slave in Araby

1954: Magyar Melody (a musical comedy),

1956: La Traviata

1958: Cavalleria rusticana, Rose Marie

1959: Rigoletto, Cavalleria rusticana, La traviata and Pastorale (ballet)

1960: La bohème, La traviata, Cavalleria rusticana and Rigoletto (the four operas were also taken on a first tour to Port Elizabeth, Durban, and Johannesburg from June to September 1960); The Pink Lemonade (ballet).

1961: The Square

1962: Madama Butterfly and Die Fledermaus

1963: Behind the Yellow Door

1963/1964: The EOAN choir sang in the JODS production of Show Boat (directed by Anthony Farmer) at the Alhambra Theatre, Cape Town, replacing the Capedium Choir of Johannesburg.

1965: Il trovatore and L’elisir d’amore (La traviata, Il trovatore, La bohème, L’elisir d’amore and Carmen were taken on a second tour to Johannesburg, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth from June to August 1965).

1966: La traviata

1967: Oklahoma!

1968: South Pacific

1969: Il barbiere di Siviglia

1970: Carmen Jones

1971: I pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana, Rigoletto

1974/1975: Il barbiere di Siviglia and La traviata.

Eoan policy prevents mention of actors by name (Trek, 10(13):23, 1945)



Tucker, 1997.

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.

Sjoerd Alkema. 2012. "Conductors of the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra, 1914-1965: a historical perspective". University of Cape Town. Unpublished PhD thesis.

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