The opera tells the story of Koanga, an African prince and Voodoo priest, sold into slavery on a plantation in America in the eighteenth century. Arriving in chains, he curses those who have betrayed him and declares that he will never give in and work for his oppressors, no matter what they do to him. However, he is captivated by the beauty of the slave girl Palmyra, and the plantation owner Don José Martinez sees a way to persuade Koanga, promising him that he can marry Palmyra if he agrees to work alongside the other slaves. This angers the overseer Simon Perez, who wants Palmyra for himself.


As Koanga and Palmyra prepare for their wedding, Perez arranges for Palmyra to be kidnapped before the ceremony can take place. Koanga demands to know where she has gone, blaming Martinez for her disappearance. There is a fight and Koanga strikes Martinez to the ground.

Koanga and several other slaves flee to a swamp near the plantation. They perform a Voodoo ritual in which they curse the slavemasters who oppressed them. However, Koanga sees in a vision that his curse has fallen upon the slaves on the plantation, not the slavemasters. Touched by the plight of Palmyra, he returns to find Perez trying to force himself on her. In a rage he kills Perez, then is himself killed by Martinez's henchmen. Horrified by Koanga's fate, Palmyra renounces her Christian faith in favour of Voodoo and kills herself.



Koanga was performed at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London on April 12-14 by Pegasus Opera Company. The role of Koanga was taken by Leonard Rowe, and Palmyra was played by Alison Buchanan (the photos on this page are taken from those performances). It was composed by the English composer Frederick Delius at the end of the 19th century. As a young man, Delius had managed an orange plantation in Florida. Although slavery was abolished long before then, the workers on this plantantion were mostly black, and Delius was fascinated by the songs they sang as they worked, and he tried to reproduce this musical style in the opera.