Love and hot sauce: New Orleans revives 1894 Tabasco opera
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Love, hate and hot sauce are themes of a 19th century comic opera produced as a kickoff to New Orleans’ 300th anniversary. It’s also the 150th anniversary for Tabasco sauce and the New Orleans Opera’s 75th.
“Tabasco: a Burlesque Opera” had been stuck in an attic for more than a century when conductor Paul Mauffray found a program from its 1894 tour in archives for the opera company and its predecessors.
“At first I thought it couldn’t be Tabasco — that Tabasco hadn’t been around that long,” Mauffray said. But an official history of McIlhenny Co ., which makes the sauce, showed that Tabasco predated the opera by 26 years, and that McIlhenny had sponsored the original tour.
The Tabasco-making company underwrote the sold-out production running through today.
Composer George Whitefield Chadwick was well known in his day, Mauffray said, and if “Tabasco” had its due, “it would be the founding cornerstone of our American history in the opera. It was not just some little show that was done here once. It was the most popular American opera from the pre-20th century.”
Opera has been a big part of New Orleans’ social and musical scene going back to the late 1700s. Mauffray was trying to learn more of its history when he found the program in a box in 2009.
This opera might be rooted in the comical genre that brought fame to the British duo Gilbert and Sullivan.
Chadwick attended a music conservatory in Leipzig, Germany, a decade after W.S. Gilbert, and probably studied under some of the same masters, Mauffray said. Chadwick was commissioned to write the Tabasco opera in 1893 by a corps of well-to-do Army cadets in Boston. The cadets performed it in January 1894 as a fundraiser, winning critical notice for the shapely, clean-shaven legs of the young men acting women’s parts.
It went on to more than 40 professional performances in New York. “This time, the reviewers said it sounded so much better when the women’s parts were sung by women,” Mauffray said.