Opera returns to Bourbon Street after 90 years
Bourbon Street — where Dixieland jazz competes with karaoke bars, rock’n’ roll cover bands and strip club jukeboxes — is also one of thefirst places in America where opera was heard.
Bourbon Street — where Dixieland jazz competes with karaoke bars, rock ’n’ roll cover bands and strip club jukeboxes — is also one of the first places in America where opera was heard.
Now, it’s being heard there again, with a New Orleans-style twist.
Performances take place in a hotel lounge called the Puccini Bar, named for the composer of Madama Butterfly. And spectators sip cocktails while listening to the free, informal shows, which include arias from La Boheme and Carmen.
The lounge is located at The Inn on Bourbon, a hotel built on the site of the French Opera House. The opera house opened in the mid-1800s and was one of the grandest theatres in New Orleans until it burned to the ground in 1919.
“We’re bringing opera back to Bourbon Street,” said Beth Ables, general manager of the Inn, which offers a typical study in French Quarter contrasts: As elegant as any of the nearby art galleries or antique shops, it sits near a row of strip clubs and across the street from a huge sign advertising “3-for-1” drink specials.
The French Opera House was part of a bustling theatre district in the French Quarter that started in the late 1700s and lasted through the early part of the 20th century. The city’s first opera on record was Andre Ernest Gretry’s Sylvain at the Theatre St. Pierre in the French Quarter in 1796.
While a century ago men in tuxedoes and ladies in gowns would have arrived for the opera by horse-drawn carriage, today passers-by meander into The Inn’s street-level lounge in casual attire to hear opera. Ables said she even plans to have loudspeakers broadcast some of the performances out onto the street.
Some performances are organized by a trio of singers known as Bon Operatit! Other performances are staged with help from the New Orleans Opera Association as part of its Opera on Tap series, which offers performances at other bars and lounges around the city.
Robert Lyall, general and artistic director for the New Orleans Opera Association, which also stages full-scale operas, said the informal performances are a great way to reach people who would not otherwise attend an opera.
“The idea is that people have this incidental encounter with opera, lowering the barrier for them to resist the classical arts,” Lyall said. “If they come away with nothing more than the realization that opera music is inviting and that it has an emotional impression even in an informal setting, then we have fulfilled a wonderful mission.”
Opera performances at the Inn on Bourbon are scheduled monthly through August, though Ables said she hopes to make them a permanent fixture at the hotel.