Valley Song

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Valley Song is a drama by Athol Fugard (1932-).

Valley Song is also the title of an opera by Guy Willoughby and Thomas Rajna, based on Fugard's play.

The original text

The play was partly inspired by an incident that occurred while the BBC was filming a documentary of Athol Fugard and his life in Nieu Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. A young girl, seeing the camera crew leaving the village, stopped them and offered to sing a song, which she duly did on camera, out there on the dusty street..

Set early in the New South Africa, Fugard's resulting play was, on one level, autobiographical - about an elderly man finding himself more comfortable in the familiar and secure, if confined reality of the past - while on another level, it dealt with the challenges and opportunities facing a new generation in an entirely new environment. It tells of an old "Coloured" man in the rural Eastern Cape has lovingly brought up his teenage granddaughter in the values, the fears and the limited expectations of the old South Africa, but she has aspirations to be more. Life has given her one thing, a lovely singing voice, and she wants to sing her own song. More, she wants to become a famous singing star in Johannesburg, the City of Gold. Hers is a dream of freedom. The metaphor is apparent; the old must find the wisdom to let go of the past and the new must find the courage to take the first steps into the future. In an interview at the time of the première (cited by Van Heerden, 2008, p. 153), the playwright commented, also in the narrower context of the arts, “I believe that we are going to get it (the new South Africa) right. I believe there is an exciting time ahead for us in the arts as our new reality emerges and as our artists focus on the new reality. Maybe we lack focus at the moment and maybe that’s because our reality isn’t defined”.

The play, directed by Fugard, premiered at the Market Theatre in South Africa in August 1995 with Esmeralda Bihl as "Veronica" and the Fugard himself once more as "Buks/Author".and in the USA in October of the same year. The American première took place at the McCarter Theater in New Jersey and featured with Lisa Gay Hamilton as "Veronica" and the Fugard himself once more as "Buks/Author".

Published by Theatre Communications Group, 1996, and in My Life & Valley Song, Wits University Press, 1996.

Translations and adaptations

Translated into Afrikaans as Lied van die Vallei ("Song of the Valley") by Idil Sheard in 2003. The text published by Maskew Miller Longman in 2005/2006.

Adapted as an opera, under the original title, with a libretto by Guy Willoughby and a score by Thomas Rajna.

Performance history of the play in South Africa

1995: Premièred at the Market Theatre in August, directed by the playwright, with Esmeralda Bihl as Veronica and Fugard as Buks/Author. Music composed by Didi Kriel, set design by Susan Hilferty and lighting design Mannie Manim.

1995: The production staged at the Hilton Drama Festival in September.

1995: The production opened in the State Theatre, again directed by Athol Fugard, with Esmeralda Bihl, but with Louis van Niekerk now taking over the role of Buks/Author from Fugard - who had gone to the USA for the American production.

1996: Staged at the KKNK, directed by Fugard, with Esmeralda Bihl as Veronica and Fugard as Buks/Author. The role of Buks was later taken over by Marius Weyers.

2003: Staged in the Studio at the Baxter Theatre by Mannie Manim Productions, directed by Barbara Rubin, with Quanita Adams (Veronica) and Ivan Abrahams (Buks) with design by Patrick Curtis.

2003: The Afrikaans translation by Idil Sheard, was staged as Lied van die Vallei, in the Dutch Reformed mission church, which was converted into a theatre, in the village of Nieu-Bethesda where the action was originally placed. The production was directed by Idil Sheard, with local residents Sonja Boezak (Veronica) and Arno du Toit (Buks).

Performance history of the opera in South Africa

2005: Presented by Cape Town Opera at the Spier Arts Festival (5–12 March). It was directed by Steven Stead and conducted by Graham Scott. The singers featured were Angela Kerrison, Ronnie Theys, Derick Ellis and Brad Liebl.


KKNK theatre programme, 1996.

Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Eastern Province Herald, 25 September 2003.

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Johann van Heerden 2008. Theatre in a new democracy. Some major trends in South African theatre from 1994 to 2003. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch.[1]. p 153.

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.

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