Théâtre d'Orléans

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The Theatre d'Orleans, 1813 Orleans Theater New Orleans 1813.jpg
The Théâtre d'Orléans, 1813

The Théâtre d'Orléans (English: Orleans Theatre) was the most important opera house in New Orleans in the first half of the 19th century. The company performed in French and gave the American premieres of many French operas. It was located on Orleans Street between Royal and Bourbon. The plans for the theatre were drawn up by Louis Tabary, a refugee from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti). Construction began in 1806, but the opening was delayed until October 1815 (after the War of 1812). After a fire, it was rebuilt (with the adjacent Orleans Ballroom) and reopened in 1819, led by another émigré from Saint-Domingue, John Davis. Davis became one of the major figures in French theatre in New Orleans. The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1866, [1] [2] but the ballroom is still used.

Opera house theatre building used for opera performances

An opera house is a theatre building used for opera performances that consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building.

New Orleans Largest city in Louisiana

New Orleans is a consolidated city-parish located along the Mississippi River in the southeastern region of the U.S. state of Louisiana. With an estimated population of 391,006 in 2018, it is the most populous city in Louisiana. Serving as a major port, New Orleans is considered an economic and commercial hub for the broader Gulf Coast region of the United States.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.


History of the theatre

The Orleans Theatre and Ballroom, 1838 OrleansTheaterGibson.png
The Orleans Theatre and Ballroom, 1838

1819–1837: John Davis

In the first five seasons under the leadership of Davis, the Théâtre d'Orléans presented 140 operas, including 52 American premieres. The repertory consisted primarily of French operas by composers such as Boieldieu, Isouard and Dalayrac. [2]

François-Adrien Boieldieu French composer

François-Adrien Boieldieu was a French composer, mainly of operas, often called "the French Mozart".

Nicolas Isouard Maltese composer

Nicolas Isouard was a French composer.

Nicolas Dalayrac French musician and composer of comic operas  (Muret 1753 - Paris 1809)

Nicolas-Marie d'Alayrac known as Nicolas Dalayrac was a French composer of the Classical period, best known for his opéras-comiques.

Shows could only be given from autumn through the spring, ending when the heat and humidity forced it. Unable to perform during the summer months, Davis came up with a way to continue to make money even during the summer. Beginning in 1827, Davis took the company on six tours to the northeastern United States, bringing unfamiliar repertory to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and in the process brought national recognition to the theater. [1] [2] [3]

The Théâtre d'Orléans soon became part of a rivalry with the Camp Street Theatre, run by James Caldwell and founded in 1824; Camp Street focused on operas performed in English. [1] In 1835, both theatres produced Meyerbeer's Robert le diable . Although Caldwell's English version (as Robert the Devil [3] ) opened on March 30, ahead of Davis's French version, which finally reached the stage on May 12, the latter production was thought to be "closer to both the singing and the staging demands of the opera." [1] Later that year, the Camp Street Theatre opened a new facility, the St. Charles Theatre, and hired Montresor's company from Havana to perform Italian opera, among which were the American premieres of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma (1836), Beatrice di Tenda (1837), and I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1841), as well as Rossini's Semiramide and Donizetti's Parisina in 1837. [2]

Camp Street Theatre, was a theatre in New Orleans between 1824 and 1835. It was founded by James H. Caldwell to replace the St. Philip Street Theatre and was the only English language theatre in New Orleans. It was considered the finest English speaking theatre in the South, and was the first building in New Orleans with gas lights. It was replaced by the St. Charles Theatre.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

St. Charles Theatre, was a theatre in New Orleans between 1835 and 1967. It was founded by James H. Caldwell to replace the Camp Street Theatre and was the only English language theatre in New Orleans. It was considered the theatre building in America in 1835. It burnt down in 1842 but was rebuilt, and was burnt and rebuilt a third time.

1837–1853: Pierre Davis

Davis was succeeded as director of the Théâtre d'Orléans by his son Pierre in 1837. [2]

In the 1837-38 season Mademoiselle Julie Calvé joined the company and was the leading soprano throughout the next decade. She sang Henriette in the American premiere of Halevy's L'éclair and was New Orleans' first Lucie and Anne de Boulen, its first Louise (Norina) in Don Pasquale , and Valentine in Les Huguenots. She also sang Pauline in Donizetti's Les martyrs . [4]

<i>Lucia di Lammermoor</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Lucia di Lammermoor is a dramma tragico in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian-language libretto loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor.

<i>Anna Bolena</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Anna Bolena is a tragic opera in two acts composed by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after Ippolito Pindemonte's Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli's Anna Bolena, both recounting the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England's King Henry VIII.

<i>Don Pasquale</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Don Pasquale is an opera buffa, or comic opera, in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti with an Italian libretto completed largely by Giovanni Ruffini as well as the composer. It was based on a libretto by Angelo Anelli for Stefano Pavesi's opera Ser Marcantonio written in 1810 but, on the published libretto, the author appears as "M.A."

The theatre remained the dominant venue in New Orleans during the pre-Civil War period. Competition with Caldwell's St. Charles Theatre and his New American Theatre ended in 1842, when both were destroyed by fire. [1] With Caldwell's competition out of the way, the Théâtre d'Orléans entered a period of dominance in New Orleans' cultural life. The company again performed in the northeast United States in 1843 and 1845. [1] [2]

During the spring of 1844, New Orleans was visited by the important French soprano, Laure Cinti-Damoreau. During her brief visit she was heard on two evenings as Rosine in Le Barbier de Séville .

During her two-year appointment at the theatre, Rosa de Vries-van Os sang in many well known roles. Most memorable would be her role on 21 April 1852 as Fidès in Meyerbeer's Le Prophète . The very day after her performance she gave birth to a daughter who, unsurprisingly, took the name Fidès Devriès. Both Fidès and her sister Jeanne would become popular sopranos in their own right during their lifetimes.

1853–1859: Charles Boudousquié

Pierre Davis was succeeded by the American-born Charles Boudousquié, husband of the soprano Julie Calve, in 1853. Boudousquié staged many more American premieres, and featured international stars like the German soprano Henriette Sontag and the Italian Erminia Frezzolini (1818–1884). In 1859 the Théâtre d'Orléans was superseded by the French Opera House, which was built by Boudousquié after a quarrel with the owner of the Théâtre d'Orléans. [1] [2]

Orleans Ballroom

In 1817 John Davis engaged architect William Brand to design the Orleans Ballroom (Salle d'Orléans) next to the theatre. [5] It was the site of many subscription balls, carnival balls, and masquerades and catered to the most select of New Orleans society. For gala events the ballroom could be joined to the theatre, where temporary flooring was laid over the pit, making one enormous ballroom. The facilities also included gambling rooms, "for those unlucky at love." [6] When the noted American architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe visited in 1819, he judged it to be the best in the United States. [7] The Marquis de Lafayette was entertained here during his six-day visit in 1826. [8]

The famous New Orleans bals du cordon bleu (quadroon balls) were usually held at the Salle de Condé at the corner of Chartres and Madison streets, but were also occasionally held at the Orleans Ballroom. [5] At these events wealthy, respectable Creole gentlemen would court young mixed-race women and provide them with a house in the Faubourg Tremé. Many duels were fought over these "Quadroon Mistresses".[ citation needed ]

The ballroom survived the 1866 fire that claimed the theatre and in 1873 was purchased by mulatto Thomy Lafon, who was named for architect Barthélemy Lafon. [9] It became a convent and school for the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious order founded in the city – the first female-led African-American religious order in the country. The old ballroom became their chapel. Once, when a sister was showing a visitor the convent, she stopped at the chapel door. "This is the old Orleans Ballroom; they say it is the best dancing floor in the world. It is made of three thicknesses of cypress. That is the balcony where the ladies and gentlemen used to promenade. Down there, on the banquette, the beaux used to fight duels." [10]

In 1964, the ballroom was bought and renovated by the Bourbon Orleans Hotel; today it can be, once again, used as a ballroom.

American premieres

The Théâtre d'Orléans gave the American premieres of many French operas and French adaptations of several well-known Italian operas. [11]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Belsom 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Joyce & McPeek 2001.
  3. 1 2 Crawford 2001, p. 191
  4. Warrack & West 1992; Kutsch & Riemens 2003, p. 692.
  5. 1 2 Fraiser 2003, pp. 104–105.
  6. Kmen 1966, p. 20.
  7. Kmen 1966, p. 21.
  8. Arthur 1936, p. 84.
  9. Fraiser 2003, p. 105.
  10. "The Life of a Building: 1817–2011" at
  11. Belsom 2007; Belsom 1992; Loewenberg 1978; Warrack & West 1992.
  12. An English version, The Barber of Seville, was performed earlier, on 3 May 1819, at the Park Theatre in New York City.
  13. There was an earlier performance of a work called The Lady of the Lake "with at least some of the music by Rossini", which was given by the Virginia Company at the St. Philip Theatre in New Orleans in January 1820 (Kmen 1966, p. 94).
  14. Premiered on May 12 (Belom 2007); an English version, The Friend-Father, had already been presented in New York City on 7 April 1834 (Brown 2001, p. 572).
  15. 22 November 1840 (Loewenberg 1978, column 761). A mutilated English version (The Swiss Cottage) had already been performed in New York City on 22 September 1836.
  16. Performed 13 December 1842. An English version, William Tell, was performed earlier, on 19 September 1831, in New York City (Loewenberg 1978, column 721).
  17. Ashbrook & Hibberd 2001, p. 244.
  18. Given in French on 13 April 1857; the Italian version was premiered in New York on 2 May 1855 (Loewenberg 1978, columns 903–904).


Coordinates: 29°57′32″N90°03′53″W / 29.959006°N 90.064652°W / 29.959006; -90.064652

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