In the Drought

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In the Drought refers to two titles: a one-act play by J. du Plessis and a one-act opera by John Joubert (1927-2019) and Adolph Wood, adapted from du Plessis' play.

In the Drought by J. du Plessis

The original text

The play was published in Short Plays from Twelve Countries, a collection of one act plays selected and edited by Winifred Katzin (London: George G Harrap and Co., 1937)

Translations and adaptations

The English title may have been the ttile given to an unnamed (and lost?) Afrikaans play, translated and adaptated into English by Winifred Katzin.

Adapted as an opera by John Joubert and Adolph Wood.

Performance history of the play in South Africa

In the Drought by John Joubert and Adolph Wood

The original text

An opera for ten voices in one act with a libretto by Adolph Wood from the play by J. du Plessis. Composed in 1954/1955. Originally commissioned by Erik Chisholm. The piece was subsequently translated into Afrikaans by Anton Hartman and performed in Johannesburg in 1958.

Billed as the first South African opera.

From Wise Music Classical:

"The opera consists of four scenes played continuously with no break of curtain. The set represents a plainly furnished living room of a Cape Dutch farmhouse in the late 19th century. There exists a period of drought and many sheep are dying.

As the opera opens, Elsie, the young wife of Jakobus Rey, is anxiously awaiting her lover Harry Mitchell, an English prospector. When he arrives he pleads with her to go away with him but Elsie both fears and pities her husband, and the bible, lying on the table, is a constant reminder that she is breaking God's law. The lovers are interrupted by Elsie's cousin Ottilie and Harry leaves. Ottilie wants Jakobus Rey to hear of his wife's unfaithfulness and threatens Elsie with God's judgement. She is joined by other members of the family and the Predikant, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. Jakobus is sent for and informed by the Predikant that their prayers for rain have not been answered because of the evil that exists in the house. Karel, Jakobus' brother-in-law is called upon to give evidence against Elsie. When Elsie is unable to swear her innocence on the Bible, the Predikant and family leave Jakobus Rey to deal with the situation. Jakobus prepares to hand over the farm to his nephew and makes Elsie swear to give up Harry. The opera ends with Jakobus' attempt to blot out the incident from his family's record and the drought is broken."

Translations and adaptations

Translated into Afrikaans as In die Droogte by conductor Anton Hartman.

Performance history of the opera in South Africa

1956: First performed in English at the Johannesburg Festival in October, conducted by Anton Hartman.

1958: First performance in Afrikaans as In die Droogte by the South African Opera Federation on 17 June 1958 at the Reps Theatre in Johannesburg. With Nellie du Toit as Elsie, Gert Potgieter as Mitchell, the German tenor Wolfgang Anheiser as Jakobus Rey. Conducted by Erik Chisholm and produced by Hermien Dommisse.

The opera was later performed in English in London by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells Theatre.


"Katzin, Winifred", WorldCat online catalogue[1]

Sydney Paul Gosher. 1988. A Historical and Critical Survey of the South African One-Act Play Written in English. Unpublished D.Litt. et Phil. Thesis, University of South Africa.

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.

"Joubert, John". University of Pretoria.

"John Joubert - In the Drought (1955)". Wise Music Classical.

Alexandra Mossolow. 2003. The Career of South African Soprano Nellie du Toit, Born 1929. University of Stellenbosch. Unpublished Masters thesis.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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