History of Opera in New Orleans

New Orleans is often regarded as the home of the first US opera house. The world is familiar with the fact that New Orleans is a vibrant and colorful city with fun events taking place throughout the year.

From Mardi Gras to Oktoberfest to New Years, there is no end to the delightful events that take place in New Orleans at any given time of the year and draw people from around the country. What most people are surprised to learn is that the city has a deep connection with opera.

The first ever opera performance to be staged in New Orleans was Sylvain, in 1796. That was the year when Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice and Napoleon married Josephine.

New Orleans was still under Spanish rule back then but that did not stop the city from becoming the opera capital of North America.

Opera was the leading entertainment option in most parts around the world before movies existed. Opera blended music, storytelling, and dramatic performances to make one entertaining package. Not only did people enjoy watching opera performances but a huge number of artists, dancers, singers, costume, and stage designers made their living from it.

Opera has always been a part of New Orleans’ culture, and the audience consisted of people from all walks of life, whether rich or poor, high class or low.

Old opera theaters in NOLA

Not only was New Orleans the hub of opera in North America, it also boasted of some of the most famous theaters of the time.

Théâtre de la Rue Saint Pierre was where Sylvain was staged in 1796, and for the longest time, was the earliest opera house in the city. It opened in 1792 and was the first French speaking opera house in Louisiana but also catered to the Spanish speaking audience.

In 1808, the Théâtre St. Philippe opened and Une folie by Étienne Méhul was premiered here. For a long time, the most famous opera house in New Orleans was the Théâtre d’Orléans, from 1819 to 1859.

The French Opera House succeeded the Théâtre d’Orléans in 1859. It went on to become the most significant opera house in the history of New Orleans. American premieres of works by Bellini, Verdi, and Rossini always took place at the French Opera House, until it burned down in a fire in 1919 which is the same year The Great War of WWI ended.

With the French Opera House gone, the whole opera scene in New Orleans was disrupted. The French Opera House could not be rebuilt because of the lack of funds, and until 1943 opera was only performed in the city by touring companies.

New opera theaters

After an entire generation without any resident opera company, the city finally got the New Orleans Opera Association in 1943 and also found a resident company again.

There were a few popular opera houses that operated during this time, such as the Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts and the New Opera Theater that closed in 1990.

Those looking to experience opera in New Orleans today should look for performances at Mahalia Jackson Theater, Le Petit Theater, or the Marigny Opera House.

Halloween in New Orleans

If you always thought that Halloween is for little kids, then coming to New Orleans will change your perception. In the Crescent City, Halloween is not just a night where kids go trick-or-treating. It’s a night when adults also get to join in the fun in their crazy costumes with music festivals, parades, and street parties!

Scary and Fun!

In fact, after Mardi Gras, Halloween in New Orleans is most famous for the wild costumes and the crazy fun. Those who have experienced Halloween in New Orleans will vouch for the fact that it’s more fun for adults than for the kids!

New Orleans is known as a fun and colorful city where every event is celebrated with much show and pomp. Halloween is no different. It isn’t surprising to find people from nearby towns and cities heading to New Orleans to be a part of their outlandish Halloween celebrations.

Costuming

There is something about the people of New Orleans – they are always so clever in coming up with bizarre and eye catching costumes for any event. You might have seen zombies (or walkers from The Walking Dead) and vampires on many a Halloween night in your hometown. But when you come to New Orleans, be prepared to be wowed by crazier costumes.

Halloween celebrations in New Orleans have something for everyone, whether you are an adult, a child, or a whole family. In fact, you don’t even have to make your own costume to take part in the celebrations. There are several costume shops in the city where you will find any kind of costume that you want.

You know what you have to do once you are in costume, right? Yes, join any of the celebrations that take place in the city on Halloween night.  Make your way to Frenchmen St. on Halloween night to show off your costume and admire the creativity of others.

Most eateries, pubs, and bars stay open all through Halloween night, ready to welcome costumed guests. It doesn’t matter if you are new in the city and don’t have company. The moment you enter any bar or eatery, you will feel like a part of the crowd instantly.

A Deep History

Some of the other attractions in New Orleans on Halloween night are the haunted tours and the voodoo shops. There is an endless number of haunted attractions in New Orleans mostly in the French Quarter and the Garden District. Aside from haunted houses, New Orleans has world famous cemeteries, with their fair share of spooky stories.

Appearances of ghosts in the cemeteries have also been documented and captured on film. The voodoo shops are where you should be if you’re interested in learning spells and incantations. These shops host their own events on Halloween night where everyone is free to join.

If you’re a vampire, there are even shops catering specifically to you. If you’re simply a mere mortal who wants to have some fun, don’t forget to be part of the celebrations in these shops around the French Quarter.

Everyone can have Fun

There are various events put up by zoos and museums for the entire family on Halloween night. Kids can go trick-or-treating, enjoy some spooky stories, and also get up close with the animals.

So this Halloween, NOLA is where you should be to experience crazy fun like never before!

Fall Festivals in New Orleans

As September ends, it brings along cooler temps and higher energy. This is the time when locals celebrate the end of a long, hot summer, and more importantly the end of hurricane season. People from around the world flock to New Orleans year round to experience the variety of events and festivals taking place. But Autumn is really one of the best times of year to visit New Orleans!

Oktoberfest

New Orleans has had an influential German presence for over 90 years. To celebrate this, New Orleans hosts Oktoberfest every fall, presented by Deutsches Haus.

This annual German festival celebrates culture and cuisine for three weekends in October, with classic German food and beer. The event should be extra special this year as the Deutsches Haus celebrates its 90th anniversary! It also has a new home on the banks of Bayou St. John near New Orleans City Park, a prime location for a citywide favorite celebration.

Click here for event dates and times.

Carnaval Latino

This year marks the 29th annual Carnaval Latino celebration and parade presented by the Hispanic American Musicians and Artists Cultural Association. This is a day-long event, held on October 13th, 2018, celebrating Hispanic culture, cuisine, and music.

There is a pre parade event open to the public where you can enjoy some of the best in Latin food, drinks, music, and art. The Desfile de las Americas parade begins at Washington Square and is open to all fest goers. The festival concludes with a special edition of House of Blues’ Bamboleo.

New Orleans Film Festival

The New Orleans Film Society presents The New Orleans film festival, now in its 29th year. This much anticipated Autumn event will take place October 17th-25th. The festival is held at various locations across New Orleans and includes full-length feature films, short films, documentaries, animation, and music videos.

Tickets can be bought online and range from $9 dollars to $35, depending upon the event. Various famous faces attend the festival featuring new filmmakers including women and those of color. Inclusivity is one of the reasons why the New Orleans film festival is recognized around the country. Click here for more info.

Halloween Parade

If you like a good fright, then the annual Halloween parade by the Krewe of Boo should definitely be on your list. The parade passes through the French Quarter (Vieux Carre) and turns it into Boo Carre! Usually held on October 20th, this is the only parade that travels through the French Quarter with full sized floats. The parade is free and open to all, but if you want to ride on a float, you have to register in advance.

Beignet Festival

The beignet is a classic French treat, and New Orleans has a whole festival dedicated to it! This year, the event will take place on Saturday, October 6th at New Orleans City Park. At this free-to-enter festival, you get to try various kinds of beignet, from savory and innovative to sweet and traditional.

There will also be live music and awards for the best vendors and dishes. Food tickets are sold at the venue for $1 each, and the proceeds go to Tres Doux Foundation, an organization for children with disabilities.

Gentilly Fest

For a weekend of food, music, and family fun, head to Gentilly’s Pontchartrain Park and try the best in cuisine, music, art and jewelry, and fun activities like rock climbing, horseback riding, and storytelling. The festival is completely free and open to all, so if you’re in NOLA this fall (October 12th-14th), make sure to drop by for a grand ol’ time!

The Life of Jean Étienne de Boré

Jean Étienne de Boré, the first mayor of New Orleans, was a pioneer of the sugar Industry in Louisiana. He came into the world as French nobility in Illinois County in Louisiana in 1740. In 1771, Boré married Marie Marguerite d’Estrehan, who belonged to one of the prominent families of colonial Louisiana under French rule. Within five years of marriage, the couple moved to New Orleans.

 

Father of Commercial Sugar Industry

 

Boré acquired an extensive indigo plantation more than a couple of miles up the river from New Orleans. Boré’s plantation was on the land now known as Audubon Park. For 20 years, he cultivated the indigo crop. Soon, competition from Guatemala made him convert his field for sugar cane farming.

Boré established a sugar mill on his plantation for sugar processing. With some guidance from two sugar experts from Cuba (known as the ‘Sugar Bowl of the World’), Boré produced Louisiana’s first granulated sugar. This innovation quickly led to a large demand for sugar cane farming and processing.

Taking advantage of the growing global demand for sugar, Boré expanded his operations for sugar granulation. Sugar cane turned into the primary commodity crop of Louisiana. Sugar delivered substantial profits for the colony under Spanish rule.

 

Innovation and Enterprise of Boré

 

Boré and other planters persisted with more innovation and continued to experiment with new varieties of sugar cane. Subsequently, experiments on more efficient methods of distillation began. Boré along with his brother-in-law Jean Noel Destrehan were the first to make use of bagasse. Boré and Destrehan decided to use bagasse as a fuel for the distillation process. They also utilized bagasse as a cover for the cane trapped by frost in the fields after it was cut.

By 1800, the sugar cane industry in the region had become extraordinary. It provided the kind of economic rewards that could be reaped by applying scientific research and technology to agriculture.

 

First Mayor of New Orleans

 

In late 1803, following the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase territory by the United States, Governor William C.C. Clairbone appointed Boré as New Orleans’ first mayor under American authority. (His involvement in public service had already begun during the transitional phase of French governorship under Pierre Clement de Laussat.)

Boré resigned from his position as the mayor of New Orleans in May of 1804, and went back to focusing on his personal affairs.

In 1820, Boré died at the age of nearly eighty. One of his grandsons, Charles Gayarre, became a well-known historian of Louisiana towards the end of the 19th century.

 

Fun Fact

 

Two of Boré’s original sugar kettles remain in Audubon Zoo, located along the Mississippi River, just behind Audubon Park. 

 

The Baldwin Wood Pump

It is a widely known fact that New Orleans lies below sea level.  It is especially evident and consistently a topic of conversation this time of year when heavy rains and the threat of hurricanes are the norm.

Every time we get a heavy rainstorm, there is some degree of flooding around the city. Certain neighborhoods are worse than others. Locals know which streets to take on a rainy day to stay on high ground.  August 11th of 2017 is remembered well by New Orleanians for a particularly bad flash flood. Heavy rains that day left many cars, homes, and businesses in ruin.

The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (another hot topic this time of year) receives a lot of flak for the failures of the drainage system that day and their poor performance in general as a business entity. But believe it or not, the Sewerage and Water Board was once revered as a fine establishment responsible for progressive engineering feats.

Credit for this reputation should be due primarily to Albert Baldwin Wood, a Tulane grad, engineer, and life-long inventor.

Wood Screw Pump to the Rescue

The pumps are the lifeline of New Orleans during a flood. They are responsible for pumping out the water and restoring normal life during heavy rains. Among them, the most famous and useful pump is the Wood Screw Pump. No, it isn’t made of wood. Rather, it is named after its inventor, Albert Baldwin Wood. In fact, all of the pumps used in New Orleans today were designed by Wood. That was 1915.

It was after the invention of the Wood Screw Pump that the city could expand because the “backswamps” had been drained out. The backswamp was the area of town now known as Gentilly, Lakeview, and City Park.  In addition to urban development, draining the swamp had other benefits. The mosquitoes and diseases were also gone with the stagnant flood water, and the mortality rate fell. The pumps also improved the quality of New Orleans’ water supply.

The Wood Screw Pump is still in action at the Pumping Station #1
CREDIT LAINE KAPLAN-LEVENSON / WWNO

The Side Effect

Despite the benefits that the pumps brought to the city, there was also a downside. Because the city’s swamps had been drained, it made the ground subside, and parts of the city went 10 feet below sea level. This made them even more vulnerable to rainfall and rising water, and also dependent on the pumps, outfall canals, and levees.

The Wood Screw Pump is one of the best ever made. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the original Wood Screw Pump consistently did its job, while the newer pumps broke down quickly.

Innovation is Needed

With an ever evolving landscape and climate, the old Wood Screw pumps don’t make the cut anymore. The early 20th-century drainage system we still have in place today can handle about ½” of rain water per hour. On August 11th, 2017, we saw nearly 9 inches of rainwater get dumped on the city in less than 3 hours.  While the pumps are still doing their job 100 years later (thank goodness!), early 20th-century mechanisms in this new age of technology are not what a city should depend on. Innovation is needed.

Wood was an avid fisherman and sailor who succumbed to a heart attack aboard his yacht, the Nydia, in 1956. New Orleans needs to find another Wood.

Meet the New Fleet

Meet the New Fleet

In the beginning…

Tours by Isabelle has been conducting small group tour of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana for the past 39 years! It all started when Isabelle Cossart, a young French immigrant with an entrepreneurial spirit was conducting “step-on” tours of New Orleans for big companies with big buses. She quickly realized that smaller group tours offered a far superior experience for visitors. Not only do smaller groups allow for more personalized service, but smaller vehicles can navigate the narrow streets of the French Quarter that big buses cannot. Furthermore, no one in New Orleans was offering this service! Hence, Tours by Isabelle was born.

The Golden Goose

Isabelle’s first small group tours were conducted in her personal family suburban! Next, she began renting 15 passenger vans for a bit of a more professional touring experience. Finally, in 1979, she purchased her very first 15 passenger tour van for Tours by Isabelle. She lovingly refers to her very first tour van as the “Golden Goose.” It was thanks to this first 70’s style tan vehicle, clearly marked “Tours by Isabelle” AND a lot of hard work and dedication from Isabelle herself, that Tours by Isabelle is now proud to be the oldest (and best!) family owned and operated tour company in New Orleans.

New and Improved!

Today, Tours by Isabelle operates a fleet of six 15 passenger tour vans. We have maintained a commitment to provide first class personalized service using smaller vehicles to navigate the city’s narrow streets. This month, we are happy to announce we have upgraded two of our six vans to the Ford high roof model, giving passengers a full 6’ vertical interior clearance.  Our driver/guides have provided wonderful feedback on the new vans, especially because they give our guests increased comfort and visibility. We look forward to upgrading the rest of our fleet in the near future.