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.