This is a list of operas by black creators (composers, librettists, choreographers, etc.) of which we are aware. It provides a glimpse of the wide range of black operatic activities that have been pursued around the world and throughout history. In general, these works have not yet enjoyed comprehensive scholarly engagement, though some research has been published on a small number of these works—where this is the case, you can click through to the sources listed in the ‘Literature’ section. We’ll keep updating the list with details of newly created works as they become known. For a more comprehensive database, please visit Allison Lewis and Nicholas Newton’s list here.
The preliminary version of this catalogue was assembled by BORN members Naomi André and Mia Pistorius. Our data is necessarily incomplete—we need you to help us expand! Please do get in touch if you know more details about any of the works, or if you’d like to suggest additions to the list. With your permission, we’ll credit your input on a ‘list of contributors’.
Saka Acquaye (creator). The Lost Fishermen. Ghana, 1965.
Premiere: Accra, 1965.
Read about it here: Nii-Dortey, Moses N. 2015. ‘Folk Opera and the Cultural Politics of Post-Independence Ghana: Saka Acquaya’s The Lost Fishermen’, in The Politics of Heritage in Africa: Economies, Histories, and Infrastructures, eds. Derek R. Peterson, Kozo Gavua, and Ciraj Rassool. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 222-33.
Leslie Adams (composer), Daniel Mayers (libretto). Blake. USA, 1986.
Music drama in 4 acts, based on Martin Delaney’s novel Black: Or, the Huts of America, about the lives of African American slaves on the eve of the Civil War.
Premiere: Excerpts performed by New York City Opera Company, VOX Showcase, 5 May 2006.
Regina Baiocchi (composer and librettist). Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child. USA, 1996-7.
One-act opera about Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes.
Premiere: Harold Washington Library Centre, Chicago, October 1996.
Terence Blanchard (composer), Michael Cristofer (libretto). Champion. USA, 2013.
Premiere: Opera Theatre of St. Louis, 2013.
Terence Blanchard (composer), Kasi Lemmons (libretto). Fire Shut Up in My Bones.USA, 2019.
Premiere: Opera Theatre of St. Louis, 2019.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The Anonymous Lover [L’Amant Anonyme]. France, 1780.
Based on the play, L’Amant Anonyme, by Félicité de Genlis. Little is known about this Opéra Comique, but it was performed in 2016 by Little Opera Theater of New York, and again in an acclaimed online production by LA Opera in October 2020.
Read about it here: https://www.laopera.org/hidden-pages/the-anonymous-lover-viewing
Margaret Bonds (composer), Langston Hughes (libretto). Shakespeare in Harlem. USA, 1959.
Music theatre work consisting of a series of vignettes depicting life in Harlem.
Premiere: Uncertain; possibly 1959. The work was performed at 41st Street Theatre, NYC, 9 February 1960.
Asadata Dafora (creator). Kykunkor (The Witch Woman). USA, 1934.
Premiere: Little Theatre, New York City, 1934.
Read about it here: Needham, Maureen. 2002. ‘Kykunkor, or The Witch Woman: An African Opera in America, 1934’, in Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance, ed. Thomas F. De Frantz. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 233-66.
Asadata Dafora (creator). Bassa Moona. USA, 1937.
Premiere: New York City, 1937.
Asadata Dafora (creator). Zunguru. USA, 1938.
Premiere: New York City, 1938.
Asadata Dafora (creator). Batanga. USA, 1949.
Premiere: New York City, 1949.
Richard Danielpour (composer), Toni Morrison (libretto). Margaret Garner. USA, 2005.
Premiere: Detroit Opera House, 2005.
Read about it here: Jennings, La Vinia Delois. 2016. Margaret Garner: The Premiere Performances of Toni Morrison’s Libretto. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Kodat, Catherine Gunther. 2008. ‘Margaret Garner and the Second Tear’. American Quarterly 60(1), 159-171.
Guarracino, Serena. 2015. ‘Africa as Voices and Vibes: Musical Routes in Toni Morrison’s Margaret Garner and Desdemona.’ Research in African Literatures 46(4), 56-71.
Fallon, Robert. 2006. ‘Music and the Allegory of Memory in Margaret Garner’. Modern Fiction Studies 52(2), 524-542.
Anthony Davis (composer), Thulani Davis (libretto). X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X. USA, 1985-1986.
Semi-staged premiere: Philadelhia, 1985.
Fully staged premiere: New York City Opera, 1986.
Read about it here: Bynum, Leon James. 2010. ‘Malcolm, Who Have You Been?: Musicalizing the Relationship Between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad in X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X’. Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 12(1), 55-68.
Anthony Davis (composer), Thulani Davis (libretto). Amistad. USA, 1997.
Premiere: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1997.
Anthony Davis (composer), Yusef Komunyakaa (libretto). Wakonda’s Dream.USA, 2007.
Premiere: Opera Omaha, 2007.
Anthony Davis (composer), Richard Wesley (libretto), The Central Park Five. USA, 2019.
Premiere: Long Beach Opera Company, California, 2019.
Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music
Akin Euba (composer). Chaka: An Opera in Two Chants. Based on an epic poem by Léopold Sédhar Sengor. Ghana, 1970.
Premiere: University of Ife, Nigeria, 1970.
Read about it here: Agawu, Kofi. 2001. ‘Chaka: An Opera in Two Chants’. Research in African Literatures 32(2), 196-98.
Harry Lawrence Freeman (composer and librettist). The Martyr. USA, 1893.
Premiere: Denver, Colorado, 1893.
Read about it here: Caplan, Lucy. 2019. ‘High Culture on the Lower Frequencies: African Americans and Opera, 1900-1933’. PhD Dissertation, Yale University.
Davidson, Celia E. 1980. ‘Operas by Afro-American Composers: A Critical Survey and Analysis of Selected Works’. PhD Dissertation, The Catholic University of America.
Stewart, Austin Jonathan Jerome. 2019. ‘The Opera is Booming. This is a City. Opera in the Urban Frontier of Denver, 1864-1893’. PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan.
Harry Lawrence Freeman (composer and librettist). Voodoo. USA, 1914.
Premiere: New York City, 1928.
Rhiannon Giddens (composer and librettist). Omar.USA, 2020.
Premiere: Spoleto Festival USA, postponed to 2021.
Shirley Graham Du Bois (composer and librettist). Tom Tom. USA, 1932.
Premiere: Cleveland, OH, 1932.
Read about it here: Schmalenberger, Sarah. 2006. ‘Debuting Her Political Voice: The Lost Opera of Shirley Graham’. Black Music Research Journal 26(1), 39-87.
Adolphus Hailstork (composer), Susan Kander (libretto). Joshua’s Boots. USA, 1999.
One-act opera about a young black cowboy, commissioned by Opera Theater of St. Louis and Kansas City Lyric Opera.
Premiere: Opera Theatre of St. Louis, 11 June 1999
Adolphus Hailstork (composer), Herbert Woodward Martin (libretto). Paul Laurence Dunbar: Common Ground. USA, 1995.
Operatic theatrepiece in eleven scenes, inspired by the life and poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Commissioned by Dayton Opera Association.
Adolphus Hailstork (composer), David Gonzales (libretto). Rise for Freedom: The John P. Parker Story. USA, 2007.
Opera based on an episode from former slave and Underground Railroad conductor John P. Parker’s autobiography, His Promised Land.
Premiere: Cincinnati Opera, 13 October 2007
Adolphus Hailstork (composer), Shauneille Perry (libretto). Paul Robeson, the Opera. USA, 2013.
Opera about the life of African-American singer, actor, and activist Paul Robeson. Commissioned by Trilogy Opera Company.
Premiere: Trilogy Opera Company, Newark, NJ., August 2013
Isango Ensemble. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha [film opera based on Bizet’s Carmen]. Directed by Mark Dornford-May. South Africa: Spier Films. 2003.
Read about it here: Viljoen, Santisa and Marita Wenzel. 2016. ‘The Same, Yet Different: Re-Encoding Identity in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha’. Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa 13(1/2), 53-70.
Davies, James and Lindiwe Dovey. 2010. ‘Bizet in Khayelitsha: U-Carmen eKhayelitsha as Audio-Visual Transculturation’. Journal of African Media Studies 2(1), 39-53.
André, Naomi. 2016. ‘Carmen in Africa: French Legacies and Global Citizenship’. The Opera Quarterly 32(1), 54-76.
Isango Ensemble. Unogumbe [film opera based on Britten’s Noye’s Fludde]. Directed by Mark Dornford-May. UK: Film and Music Entertainment. 2013.
Isango Ensemble. Breathe – Umphefumlo [film opera based on Puccini’s La Bohème]. Directed by Mark Dornford-May. South Africa: Advantage Entertainment. 2015.
Mandisi Dyantyis and Isango Ensemble. A Man of Good Hope. Based on the novel by Jonny Steinberg. South Africa, 2016.
Premiere: Cape Town, 2016.
Mzilikazi Khumalo (composer), Themba Msimang (libretto). Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu. South Africa, 2002.
Premiere: Opera Africa, Durban, 2002.
Read about it here: Mhlambi, Innocentia J. 2015. ‘The Question of Nationalism in Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu (2002)’. Journal of African Cultural Studies 27(3), 294-310.
Duro Ladipo (composer and librettist). Oba Moro. Nigeria, 1962.
Premiere: Oshogbo, 1962.
Duro Ladipo (composer and librettist). Oba Kòso. Nigeria, 1962.
Premiere: Oshogbo, 1963.
Read about it here: Duro-Ladipo, Abiodun and Gbóyèga Kóláwolé. 1997. ‘Opera in Nigera: The Case of Duro Ladipo’s Oba Kòso’. Black Music Research Journal 17(1), 101-29.
Duro Ladipo (composer and librettist). Oba Waja. Nigeria, 1964.
Premiere: Oshogbo, 1964.
Daniel Lazour (composer), Patrick Lazour (librettist). We Live in Cairo. USA, 2017.
One-act music drama following the young leaders of the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Cairo, Egypt.
Premiere: American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, MA., 22 May 2019
Tania León (composer and librettist). Scourge of Hyacinths. Germany, 1994.
Opera in twelve scenes, based on the radio play by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. Commissioned by the Munich Biennale.
Premiere: Munich Biennale, 1994.
Tania León (composer), Thulani Davis (libretto). The Little Rock Nine. USA.
Opera about the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Commissioned by the University of Central Arkansas.
Premiere: opera in progress.
George E. Lewis (composer and librettist). Afterword. USA, 2015.
Based on the final chapter of Lewis’s 2008 book, A Power Stronger than Itself: the AACM and American Experimental Music. Commissioned by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago.
Premiere: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, by the International Contemporary Ensemble, 16-17 October 2015
Dorothy Rudd Moore (composer and librettist). Frederick Douglass. USA, 1985.
Three-act opera commissioned by Opera Ebony. The plot revolves around Douglass’s second marriage, the Freedman’s Savings Bank collapse and his mission to Haiti.
Premiere: Aaron Davis Hall, City College of New York, 28 June 1985
Neo Muyanga (composer and librettist). The Flower of Shembe. South Africa, 2012.
Premiere: Cape Town, 2012.
Neo Muyanga (composer). Heart of Redness. Based on the novel by Zakes Mda. South Africa, 2015.
Premiere: Cape Town, 2015.
Read about it here: Fourie, William. 2015. ‘Heart of Redness by Neo Muyanga’. Muziki 12(2), 99-103.
Bongani Ndodana-Breen (composer), Warren Wilensky (libretto). Winnie: The Opera. South Africa and Canada, 2011.
Premiere: Pretoria, 2011.
Read about it here: Mhlambi, Innocentia J. 2016. ‘Winnie: The Opera and Embodying South African Opera’. African Studies 75(1), 1-9.
Somma, Donato. 2016. ‘“Just Say the Words”: An Operatic Rendering of Winnie’. African Studies 75(1), 32-47.
Sibusiso Njeza and Kutlwano Masote (composers), Unathi Mtirara (libretto). Madiba, The African Opera.South Africa, 2014.
Premiere: Pretoria, 2014.
Nkeiru Okoye (composer and librettist). 2014. Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom. USA.
Opera in two acts, about American abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Commissioned by American Opera Project.
Premiere: American Opera Project; Irondale Centre, Brooklyn, NY; 21 February 2014.
Read about it here: https://www.nkeiruokoye.com/harriet-tubman
Nkeiru Okoye (composer and librettist). In development. Tales from the Briar Patch. USA.
Comic opera based on the Bre’r Rabbit stories. Currently in development, supported by Virginia Arts Festival John Duffy Institute for New Opera, American Opera Projects, Andrew W. Mellon fund, Hampton Roads Community Foundation, and Aaron Copland Fund for Music. Workshopped at University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre and Dance, February-March 2020.
Premiere: In development.
Julia A. Perry (composer and libretto), V. Card (libretto). The Cask of Amontillado. USA, 1954.
One-act chamber opera in Italian, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Premiere: Columbia University, NYC, 1954
Zenobia Powell Perry (composer and librettist). Tawawa House. USA, 1987.
Musical drama in two acts.
Premiere: Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Central State Unviersity, Ohio, May 1987.
Dave Ragland (composer) and Mary McCallum (librettist). One Vote Won. USA, 2020.
Opera tracing the efforts of Tennessee-based Black suffragettes Juno Frankie Pierce and Diane Nash to secure political equality for all.
Premiere: Nashville Opera, 25 September, online film production.
Read about it here: A study guide for the opera is available to download from Nashville Opera’s official site: https://www.nashvilleopera.org/vote
Daniel Bernard Roumain (composer), Marc Bamuthi Joseph (libretto). We Shall Not be Moved. USA, 2017.
Chamber opera about the Black liberation group, MOVE, in Philadelphia. Co-commissioned by The Apollo Theater (NYC), Opera Philadelphia, and Hackney Empire (UK).
Premiere: Wilma Theater, Opera Philadelphia, 16 September 2017
Daniel Schnyder (composer), Bridgette A. Wimberly (libretto). Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. USA, 2015.
Premiere: Opera Philadelphia, 2015.
D.J. Sparr (composer), Mark Campbell and Davis Miller (libretto). Approaching Ali. USA, 2013.
Premiere: Washington National Opera, 2013.
William Grant Still (composer), Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey (libretto). Troubled Island. USA, 1939.
Premiere: New York City Opera, 1949.
Read about it here: Kernodle, Tammy. 1999. ‘Arias, Communists, and Conspiracies: The History of Still’s Troubled Island’. The Musical Quarterly 83(4), 487-508.
Soll, Beverly. 2005. I Dream a World: The Operas of William Grant Still. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.
William Grant Still (composer), Verna Arvey (libretto). A Bayou Legend. USA, 1941.
Premiere: Opera/South, Jackson, Mississippi, 1974.
Read about it here: Soll, Beverly. 2005. I Dream a World: The Operas of William Grant Still. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.
William Grant Still (composer), Verna Arvey (libretto). Highway One, USA. USA, 1962.
Premiere: Miami, 1963.
Read about it here: Soll, Beverly. 2005. I Dream a World: The Operas of William Grant Still. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.
William Grant Still (composer), Harold Bruce Forsythe (libretto). Blue Steel. USA, 1934.
Premiere: extracts performed in Los Angeles, 1935.
Read about it here: Murchison, Gayle. 2012. ‘New Paradigms in William Grant Still’s Blue Steel’, in André, Naomi, Karen M. Bryan and Eric Saylor, eds. 2012. Blackness in Opera. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 141-163.
Douglas Tappin (composer and librettist). I Dream.USA, 2010.
Premiere: Atlanta, 2010.
Jeanine Tesori (composer), Tazewell Thompson (libretto). Blue.USA, 2019.
Premiere: Glimmerglass Festival, 2019.
Richard Thompson (composer and librettist). The Mask in the Mirror. USA, 2012.
Three-act chamber opera about the ill-fated romance between Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moor. Recorded by Sanaa Opera Project, released on Navona (NV6209) in 2019.
Premiere: Trilogy Opera, Newark, NJ, 4 August 2012
Shirley Thompson (composer and librettist). Memories in Mind: Women of the Windrush Tell their Stories. UK, 2019.
Operatic re-imagining of the 1992 film, Memories in Mind, in which women who migrated to the UK during the so-called Windrush period (late 1940s – early 1970s) narrate their experiences. Part of Thompson’s series, ‘Heroines of Opera’.
Premiere: Tête-à-tête Festival, 28 July 2019.
Read about and watch it here: https://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/event/memories-in-mind-women-of-the-windrush-tell-their-stories/.
Shirley Thompson (composer and librettist). The Woman Who Refused to Dance. UK, 2017.
An operatic narrative in one act for soprano, speaker, dancer, instrumental ensemble and video. Part of Thompson’s series, ‘Heroines of Opera’, the piece reflects on a brutal historical episode, in which an unnamed woman who refused to dance aboard a slave ship, was publicly humiliated, viciously punished, and ultimately killed.
Premiere: Tête-à-tête Festival, 27 July 2017.
Read about and watch it here: https://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/event/the-woman-who-refused-to-dance/
Shirley Thompson (composer and librettist). Sacred Mountain. UK, 2015.
A chamber opera celebrating the heroic life and deeds of Queen Nanny of the Maroons. A national heroine of Jamaica, she led the Windward Maroons into battle against the British during the First Maroon War (1720-1739). This experimental work, which features contemporary vocal, spoken word artistry, orchestral music and dance, is the first in Thompson’s ‘Heroines of Opera’ series.
Read about and watch it here: https://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/event/sacred-mountain/
Errollyn Wallen (composer and librettist). Four Figures with Harlequin. UK, 1993.
Chamber opera commissioned by Royal Opera House Garden Venture.
Errollyn Wallen (composer), Cindy Owens (libretto). Look! No Hands!. UK, 1996.
Errollyn Wallen (composer and librettist). Another America: Earth. UK, 2003.
Premiere: Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, 9 November 2003.
Errollyn Wallen (composer and librettist). Another America: Fire. UK, 2004.
Premiere: Sadler’s Wells, London, 16 September 2004.
Errollyn Wallen (composer and librettist). Another America: Air. UK, 2007.
10-minute opera for solo tenor and piano.
Errollyn Wallen (composer), April de Angelis (librettist). The Silent Twins. UK, 2007.
Chamber opera based on Marjorie Wallace’s book of the same title, commissioned by Almeida opera.
Premiere: Almeida Theatre, London, 5 July 2007.
Errollyn Wallen (composer and librettist). Anon. UK, 2013.
Opera about the modern exploitation of women across different cultures. Commissioned by Welsh National Opera.
Premiere: WNO, Llanover Hall Arts Centre, Cardiff, 14 March 2014.
Errollyn Wallen (composer), Dominic Hingorani (librettist). The Powder Monkey. UK, 2018.
Opera created by Brolly Productions, about the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Premiere: Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent, 29 October 2019.