A Study of Nigeria’s Opera Development and Composers


Abe, A.


One of the performing art forms that came to Nigeria during the colonial days from Europe is opera, it has subsequently developed the Nigerian form over time in different categories. With focus on the scored opera and composers, this paper employed survey and interview method to gather primary data while literature review provided secondary data to trace the development of scored operas in Nigeria and identify its composers. The paper revealed that the development of Nigeria’s scored opera was a result of Western training and more importantly, the establishment of Nigerian higher institutions that fostered music study along other performing arts departments that trained professional musicians and artistes. It however established fifteen 16 opera composers and twenty-nine (30) operas in Nigeria. It subsequently concluded that the future of opera in Nigeria is hinged on improved educational curriculum.


Opera, development, composers, literature, music


Opera developed in Europe 17th century and it came to Nigeria during the colonial era as part of the social activities among foreigners and Nigerians who had acquired and appreciated the Western culture especially through mission Schools and Churches. Opera became one of the performances that was brought on stage during the period as modern society emerged. However, Nigerians overtime developed a form similar to the European opera called the ‘folk opera’ which became formidable in the 1940s, pioneered by Hubert Ogunde with a number of other composers and dramatists who emerged and explored the art form around the middle of the 20th century. However, the early folk opera in Nigeria did not enjoy formal music notation and libretto. The early Nigerian folk opera gradually gave way to professional theatre, subsequently, new form of opera developed. Western music education with its culture and modern environment that started emerging in Nigeria’s 20th century became significant influence for the new operatic form which grew and birthed new dimensions in operatic growth in Nigeria. Its development even though slow probably due to the technicality involved, has however developed at its own pace in Nigeria and has been established as part of Nigerian musical and theatrical art forms. As Nigerian operas are limited so are its composers. While the former (folk opera) had received attention in literature, the latter has a dearth of knowledge as minimal written works on it is found. This study therefore seeks to examine the evolution of scored operas with a survey of Nigerian opera composers and their works.


The Nigerian Opera in Pre-independence Evolution of Western education and the Church in Nigeria were pivotal to the development of opera in Nigeria. Music used in the Christian liturgy, classical as well as social music from foreign communities thrived within the growing Nigerian modern societies such as Lagos, Onitsha, Ibadan, Calabar among few others. Several music groups evolved and promoted different genres of music that surfaced within the society, in the Church and schools. Equally, dramatic society sprang up and brought significant influence within the society. Ogunbiyi (1989), Omolola (1995), Ekwueme (2008) and other scholars documented series of artistic events within the society. Ogunbiyi (1981) notes that musical development in Lagos came early and drama developed later. The influence went on for about several years sprouting artistes with improved ideas composing and performing in pre-colonial Nigeria in the 1920s and 1930s. It must be noted ...


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