Neels Hansen

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Neels Hansen (1936-2014). Designer and Director for theatre and opera.


Born on 16 April 1936 and went to school in Heidelberg in the Transvaal. He then studied at the University of Pretoria and the Pretoria Teachers Training College, with a view to becoming a teacher. However, at the age of 24 his instrests shifted and he began work at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre.

He died of cancer in November 2014 at the age of 78.

Contribution to South African theatre and performance

Hansen soon became a driving force behind South African opera and musical theatre in the North of the country, both as a lecturer at the University of Pretoria and his work as designer, director and artistic director for PACT Opera.

His early costume designs include those for Kismet (1973) and Sun City’s opening theatre production (1979), while his early directing projects included The Merry Widow (1983). These were soon followed by a long list of works which he staged, directed and often also designed for, over the years. These include Britten's Peter Grimes and Death in Venice; Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Lucia di Lammermoor, Maria Stuarda, I puritani and L’elisir d’amore (for the Royal Opera of Teheran); Gounod's Faust; Leoncavallo's I pagliacci; Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana; Offenbach's Les contes d’Hoffmann; Puccini's La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Tosca and Turandot; Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia; Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier; Verdi's Aïda, Attila, Don Carlo, Nabucco, Otello, Rigoletto, La traviata, and Un ballo in maschera.

In 1999 he and the soprano Mimi Coertse founded the Black Tie Ensemble as means to help preserve the traditions of opera performance in South Africa and to create a pathway for gifted, aspiring young singers to become opera performers. This later evolved into what is now known as the Gauteng Opera. Hansen remained a patron of this till his death in 2014.


He won a Naledi Lifetime Achiever Award, February 2005.

In 2014 he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Kyknet Fiestas, for his contribution to Theatre and Costume Design.


Percy Tucker, 1997

The Star, 15 February 2005.

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