Koanga is Frederick Delius’ third opera, written between 1896 and 1897, on a libretto by Charles Francis Keary, inspired partly by the 1880 book The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life by George Washington Cable. Inspiration also came from Delius’s own experiences as a young man when his family sent him to work in Florida. Koanga is reputed to be the first opera in the European tradition to base much of its melodic material on African-American music.
The single most famous musical passage from the opera contains the melody known as La Calinda, which is the only part of the score that has remained famous in the concert hall. Eric Fenby, Delius’ amanuensis, has spoken of the opera as follows:
“Koanga is one of those singular works that attract attention in Delius’s development but which stand apart from the rest of his music. Usually, once a work was written, Delius’s interest in it would wane. It would then be renewed and be relived temporarily every time he heard it again. For Koanga, however, he showed concern as though it held some secret bond that bound him to his youth in Florida. It was the one work he deplored in old age he was never likely to hear again. And so it proved. A dark grandeur pervades the score which, whilst yielding to hankerings after Wagner, recalls the tragic gusto of Verdi. The elements of time, place and plot allowed him a range of textures and moods wider than in his other operas.”
Sir Thomas Beecham, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded on February 11, 1938