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Chapter 44

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

by
John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 46
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p720 Chapter XLV
The Carnival, Opera and the Drama

The hush of a delicious Southern winter's night lies upon the city. The temperature is neither hot nor cold, warm enough to make the open air pleasant, yet not so warm as to render exercise uncomfortable. The streets are thronged with people, thousands ranging themselves along the sidewalks, while other thousands ramble aimlessly through the thoroughfares, gazing into the windows of brightly illuminated residences, or watching admiringly the electric lights that glitter in long festoons of light overhead, framing every artery of travel in long lines of fire.

Suddenly a rocket cleaves the sky with its long, slender shaft of blazing gold. It breaks on high in a cluster of multicolored stars. Ten thousand eyes follow it in its flight. A half-audible "Ah!" runs through the waiting crowd. The restless throngs pause in their slow motion, eddy a moment, and then fall into line along the curb. They know what is coming and are prepared.

That is the way the Carnival begins. The next day or two will bring Rex to the city, with bands playing and brilliant costumes flashing in the sunshine, and then the night follows with more and dazzling display, and another day brings the gayety to its climax — afterwards the city subsides into the solemnity and repose of Lent; of its brief period of surpassing splendor nothing remains but a delightful memory. It lasts so short a while, this Carnival, and yet how many men toil throughout the year, how vast the sums of money spent, how much taste and skill and talent go to the creation of these magnificent pageants or the giving of these superb balls! There is no institution so intensely characteristic of New Orleans as the Carnival. All the romance and poetry of the city; all the gayety of its Latin blood; all its craving for light, and beauty, and grace find expression in it. Other American cities have Carnivals, but not such as New Orleans understands by that word; nor is it probable that any other American city will ever evolve anything even remotely resembling this peculiar institution. It is something to which one is born; which is a matter of temperament; which implies a complicated French, Spanish, and American ancestry — something which cannot possibly occur elsewhere.

The observance of Mardi Gras was introduced into the Crescent City in 1827 by some young Louisianians on their return from Paris, whither they had been sent to complete their education. They organized a street procession of maskers, somewhat primitive, no doubt, but sufficient of a novelty in those days to prove a great success. Every year thereafter the experiment was repeated, and each time it grew in popularity. But the celebration was quite different then from what it subsequently became. Each masker provided his own costume, there was no preliminary organization, the participants went for the most part on foot, and the music, if there was such, was hired by private subscription on the part of the various little groups of celebrants. Generally, the festivities came to an end with a ball at the St. Louis Hotel or the Salle d'Orleans, at which p721only the élite of the aristocratic old city was present.1 Bernard Marigny, who was a typical Creole, is credited with having done much in 1833 to put the celebration upon a permanent footing.2

From these beginnings the evolution of the New Orleans Carnival may be traced along two well-defined lines quite distinct one from the other, though related in their common object. The first is the development of the open-air pageantry which is the chief attraction of the Carnival for visitors to the Crescent City, and the other is the perfecting of the unique system of masked balls which is the main feature of the Carnival for the people of New Orleans. The idea of the peripatetic tableaux was worked out first in Mobile, in 1831, by an organization known as the Cowbellions. New Orleans adopted it in 1837. The second procession took place in 1839, on which occasion the most conspicuous feature was an immense cock, over 6 feet in height, riding in a carriage, and emitting stentorian crows, to the great delight of an appreciative crowd. Nothing more ambitious seems to have been attempted till 1857, when the Carnival, as New Orleans knows it today, came into existence with the organization of the Mystic Krewe of Comus.

Comus, which still exists, the oldest and, probably, the most important socially of the New Orleans Carnival societies, selected as the subject of its first parade Milton's "Paradise Lost." After the parade, a ball was given at the Varieties Theater, in conjunction with which a series of tableaux was presented illustrating such Miltonic themes as "The Diabolic Powers," and "The Expulsion from Paradise." The second of the Carnival organizations was the Twelfth Night Revellers, which came into existence in 1870. It continues to give an annual ball. Two other important organizations are the Knights of Momus and the Krewe of Proteus, the former organized in 1872, the latter in 1882. They, with the Krewe of Comus, always appear on the streets of New Orleans by night, and after a superb parade, entertain on a lavish scale at a ball, formerly at the French Opera House, but since the destruction of the edifice in 1919, at other places, usually the Athenaeum. It is quite probable that these balls are highly-elaborated developments of the Creole "king-parties" of colonial times; a process of merry-making, by which a young man was elected to preside over the dance, and selected his partner, or "queen," and they, jointly, became responsible for the next similar entertainment.

The daytime pageantry is supplied by Rex. The Rex Society is, essentially, the "popular" Carnival organization. It has the largest membership, spends the most money on its parades and balls, and claims a certain pre-eminence in carnival affairs. Its "king" is King of the Carnival; its "queen" is Queen of the Carnival. Rex was organized in January, 1872. The maskers who had filled the streets at Mardi Gras with their gaudy color and mirthful antics, were in that year assembled in one organization for the entertainment of the Russian Grand Duke, Alexis, who was then a visitor to the city. The bond of union thus p722formed was sufficiently strong to hold the members in a federation which eventually became the most picturesque of the whole carnival.3

No feature connected with the Carnival is more curious than the mystery which envelops everything connected therewith. So far as the general public knows, the pageants emerge from mystery, wend their brilliant way through the streets and are then received back into the impenetrable darkness and obscurity from which they emerged. To only a few in New Orleans is it given to walk behind the impalpable but nevertheless very real screen which hides the doings of the Carnival organizations from the curious gaze of the outer world. To them the complicated machinery of the Carnival is known, and to them alone. For it is a complicated machinery, far more so than the uninitiated imagine. In that dim region where Rex and Comus and Proteus and all the others hibernate, save for a few hours in the year, there goes on a ceaseless activity, and scores of hands and brains are busy practically from the moment one parade is off the streets till it is time for its successor to appear.

This secrecy extends even to the Carnival balls. The first of these entertainments is given on January 6 by the Twelfth Night Revelers. The last is that of Comus, on Mardi Gras night. The social season is at its height in the city between those two dates. These balls are of two general kinds — those given by the parade organizations and those given by organizations which do not aspire to any more ambitious undertakings. Of the former there are four — Momus, Proteus, Rex and Comus. Rex presents certain differences from the others, differences to which allusion will be made later on in this article. The others are substantially alike. There are seven of the minor organizations — Twelfth Night, to which reference has already been made; Atlanteans, Oberons, Nereus, Mythras, Falstaffians and Olympians. These societies are, for the most part, offshoots of the older and larger organizations, and retain in miniature and with certain modifications their customs and methods.

With the exception of Rex, these balls are private affairs. The point is not very well understood, not merely by strangers in the city, but by the citizens themselves. The societies which give them consider these entertainments to be of the same nature as a banquet, a reception or a dance in some private residence. For this reason there are many restrictions upon the invitations. Each member is allotted a certain number, but is required to hand in to the invitation committee a list of names of persons to whom he desires them sent, and not until this list has been carefully inspected is it complied with. The total number of invitations is governed by the size of the building in which the ball is to be given. The French Opera House could not accommodate more than 2,500 persons. Since the burning of this hallowed structure, the balls have been given in places capable of housing only a smaller number. It will be readily understood that many people, though socially of the most desirable character, cannot obtain invitations every year to all the balls.

Every year the officers of the Carnival societies are besieged by late applicants, especially by strangers in the city, who, not appreciating the p723nature of these entertainments, do not always see what their demands should not be complied with. In many cases large sums of money have been offered for invitations, but this method, so efficacious in nearly every other place, usually insures the refusal of the request in New Orleans. Rex, however, among the larger Carnival organizations, endeavors to provide for the stranger. This society issues nearly 15,000 invitations every year, and it is not difficult for any reputable person, newly arrived in the city, to secure a card to its ball. This generosity is for strangers only. Rex is as chary in the distribution of its favors to residents as any of the other organizations. Rex has more invitations to give, but he gives them just as carefully.

The Rex Society, which as has been said, is the largest and wealthiest of the Carnival societies, has about 400 members. The membership consists of two classes, the Royal Host and the Carnival Court. The former is made up of the older members of the organization, and comprises between 100 and 150 of the best-known citizens of the city. All they receive in return for the large financial contributions which they make to the society's exchequer, and for the time and skill which they devote to its affairs, is a gorgeously emblazoned piece of parchment conferring the title of duke and a jeweled badge, the latter of a different design each year. The Carnival Court is composed of the younger members. It is from their ranks that the "cast" is made up — it is they who figure under masks upon the Rex cars in the two day-pageants that are the features of the Carnival street displays, and at the Rex ball Mardi Gras night, at the Athenaeum.

The names of none of the members of Rex, whether Royal Host or Carnival Court, is ever made public. The only exception to this rule is in the case of the King of the Carnival. This monarch, chosen by the organization to preside over its street display and at its ball, is always a member of the Royal Host. His name is announced in the New Orleans newspapers on Wednesday morning, the first day of Lent. But in every other respect the deepest secrecy is maintained with regard to everything that pertains to the organization. This mystery is not as well kept today as it was twenty years ago, but considering the large number of persons involved, is still maintained to a surprising degree. Relatively few know where the workshops of the Carnival organizations are located, for example, and the present is the first time that any extensive account of the ultimate organization of the Carnival has appeared in print.

There must, of course, be one representative with whom contracts can be made and other business carried on; and he necessity is more or less known to the public. In the case of Rex this official is the "manager." He is the business agent of the Society. Over him is a select committee composed of members from both the Royal Host and the Carnival Court, whose authority is all powerful. When it is time to prepare a carnival parade, Rex's manager has an interview with his artist, and receives suggestions from him as to the subject, the character of the cars, etc. For many years the Rex artist was B. A. Wikstrom, the well-known painter, who died about ten years ago. There are always twenty cars in the Rex pageant — one a "title car," one the "king's car," and the remaining eighteen illustrating some theme of general interest. Rex's policy is to choose subjects which require little or no erudition on the part of the spectators to follow; in this respect differing from the night p724organizations, the pageants of which are sometimes decidedly learned, even abstruse.

The artist's rough sketches of the proposed pageant are submitted to the select committee, and when finally approved thereby, are referred back to him to be put in final shape. This consists in carefully redrawing the designs, one by one, according to scale, each car on its own separate sheet of paper, not over two feet square. They are represented in full color, with the maskers in place. In this form they go to the builders. The poetry, the sentiment of the pageants, of course, represent the artist's contribution, but the translation of his designs into papier-mache, canvas, tinsel and paint — which are the essential ingredients of a carnival tableau — this is the task of the builders.

For many years a wiry Frenchman, George Soulié, called the Rex pageant into being. Latterly, he had the assistance of his son, Henry. They constitute a dynasty of Carnival craftsmen whose time was practically spent exclusively in the service of the societies. Rex has large studios in an out‑of-the‑way corner of the city, especially designed for his use, and there his cars are built. The organization owns its own vehicles — platforms some twenty feet long and eight feet wide, mounted on wheels — resembling the trucks on which theatrical scenery is moved. They are used repeatedly, but the fairy structures which are every year reared upon them are always and entirely new.

The artist's design is, of course, flat, and indicates variations in the surface only by means of shading — of lights and darks, after the manner of all painting. The business of the builders is to erect a framework which, when overlaid with the canvas, will actually represent those variations in the plane; hence they are allowed an immense latitude, and the demand upon their ingenuity is enormous. Let us take an example; for instance, a car representing some marine scene. The design as it reaches the workmen represents the waves just as they would be represented in any other water color drawing. The surface of the water arises in a series of huge billows, but these billows are seamed with countless lesser waves, ripples, undulations. In the drawing they are mere splashes of color, vivid green, gray, brown, even black — but there is nothing to tell the builder how these effects are to be attained.

And yet the clever craftsman asks no more. In his atelier there is a large open floor. Upon this he spreads sheets of stout manila paper, pasting them together until he has a surface measuring 20 or 22 feet long by 18 wide. Then, with a brush dipped in red paint, he traces upon the paper the forms of various bits of timber which, put together, will constitute the vitals of the tableaux. These lines cross each other at all angles, but each is numbered, and can easily be followed in the maze of conflicting designs. Then the carpenters come in and, working from the pattern, prepare all these separate pieces of timber, fitting them on the tracings till they are exact duplications of the master's design. At this stage not even the carpenters can guess the eventual appearance of the car.

The next stage is to assemble the framework on the wagon. Under the supervision of the master builder each part is fitted into place. In the meantime papier-mache workers have done their part. Their productions are quickly tacked into place. Stout canvas follows, together with prodigious amounts of excelsior, rags and various other kinds of "stuffing" to round out the proportions of sea serpent or sinuous marine p725plant. And as the canvas is fastened to the timber framework, suddenly the beholder perceives how all the innumerable billowlets which the artist in his drawing represented by hasty strokes of the brush have become actual undulations, reproducing exactly the infinite variety of the surface of the sea.

To create a car under such circumstances calls for peculiar talent and immense experience. It is because New Orleans possesses a school of Carnival craftsmen, and because they are content to devote their lives to the fabrication of Carnival pageant, that the Crescent City is unique in the success and splendor of its pageants. The thing has been tried elsewhere, and always with comparatively small success; for, easy as it may seem to the uninstructed to rear the fairy fabric of a typical Carnival "float," the task assumes quite another phase when it is actually attempted. There is a genius which goes to this as to almost every other kind of artistic endeavor; New Orleans has that genius, and it is not found anywhere else.

The same hands which build the Rex pageant create also those of the three night organizations. The work begins in May or June and proceeds at the rate of one or two cars every week. Thus in eight months eighty complete cars can be turned out. In the meantime the artist has designed the costumes, some 125 to 150 in number, which are to be worn by the maskers. The policy of Rex is to have as much of its work done in the city as possible. Formerly the costumes were made in Paris, and the jewels and masks are still manufactured in Europe, but otherwise practically everything used in the pageants is of local origin. This is not true to the same extent of the other organizations, some of which still depend upon Paris for costumes, while others put their trust in Kalamazoo and Chicago.

The chief feature of the Carnival ball is the royalties who preside over its fleeting gayeties. The "king" is actually masked, but the queen wears no disguise. Both of them are invariably costumed in the richest and most splendid style. The queen wears crown, necklace, stomacher and other ornaments exquisitely adorned with gems. The gems, it is true, are rhinestones, but they are set by European jewelers of acknowledged skill, and the effect is quite as royal as though they were genuine. This superb regalia is provided by the Carnival organization, and becomes the property of the fair wearer, a souvenir of her brief reign. She likewise is presented with the handsome cloak which she wears and frequently receives some other costly souvenir from the "king." The queens of the Carnival societies are invariably chosen from the families of members, but with this restriction the committee is entirely free to follow its own judgment in nominating her. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that no financial consideration has any weight in the choice of either king or queen. The idea which exists in some quarters that the Rex scepter is an emblem awarded in consideration of a contribution to the society's treasury is entirely without foundation. Of course, the royal honors are not likely to fall to persons financially unable to carry them off with fitting splendor, yet it must be said that Rex has always striven to curb the propensity of its kings to lavish display. It has even been proposed to fix a sum beyond which the king's expenditures may not go, but that has not yet been done.

p726 The king of the Carnival, after having been selected by the committee, remains unknown to the other members of the organization until the Saturday before Mardi Gras. He is then formally presented to his future subjects. The queen is notified by the committee, sufficiently long before the Carnival for her to prepare the splendid dress which it is her pride to wear. Rex allows his queen the privilege of choosing her court — that is, the maids and their escorts. In many of the other organizations the maids are chosen by the governing committee; in others, they are elected by the members, but in both cases they are young women who have relatives in the society. The queens, especially those of Rex, have always been local young women, and while non-residents have from time to time figured among the maids, this, even, is rare. The one conspicuous exception to this rule was the case of Miss Winnie Davis, the "Daughter of the Confederacy,"a who was queen of one of the night organizations, although she neither made her home in New Orleans nor had any relatives connected with the Carnival. Her position in Southern society, however, was unique, and the fact that she was thus honored is not held to have established a precedent.

In many respects the night organizations which give pageants are organized along lines similar to those indicated above. A few points in which they differ have already been noted. These societies are wholly controlled by the executive councils, elected by the organization. The authority of the council is to a very considerable extent delegated to the captain, who, with two lieutenants, are responsible for the creation of the pageant and the management of the ball, just as the manager is, in the case of Rex. Neither the captain nor his lieutenants receive any compensation, In their sphere these officials are all powerful. For instance, the captain selects the king — "No. 1," as he is known to the members. While the parades are on the streets the captain, masked and on horseback, may be seen riding to and fro, guiding and directing the function in its minutest detail. His is no sinecure. In fact, it is the ability of the organizations to find men of talent to undertake the duties of this office that is the second great element in the success of the New Orleans Carnival. The amount of labor, ingenuity and enthusiasm which they put into their unremunerative task is beyond the power of the public to judge, but to those who are behind the scenes, it is — it must be — a matter of perpetual admiration and amazement. The attention which is given to the minutest detail may be inferred from the fact that on occasion, when the ball illustrates some special historical incident — as for instances, when Consus, a now defunct society, represented the meeting of Henry of England and Francis of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold — the queen and her maids are required to wear costumes characteristic of the period. The young women who constituted the court at that brilliant ball were directed to arrive at the Opera House with their hair in plaits. A half-dozen hair-dressers were in attendance, and under their deft fingers the proper coiffures were built up from designs carefully prepared months before by artists working from ancient paintings brought from France.

In closing, it may be of interest to estimate what a carnival costs. The sum of course varies from year to year. As a general proposition, however, a single Carnival car may be constructed for about $800. Taking into consideration the cost of the costumes, the fees of the artists, etc., a pageant can be put on the streets for from $15,000 to $20,000. As p727a rule, the night pageants are more expensive than those given by day. The Carnival balls cost about $4,000 each. The larger Carnival societies have budgets of about $25,000 each. It will thus be seen that the outlay for the Carnival functions, including the Twelfth Night Revelers' ball, will not fall far short of $150,000 per annum. This sum is, as I have said, drawn almost entirely from the pockets of the members. There are less than 3,000 men who belong to these organizations. The pro rata expense is, however, considerably greater than might be inferred from a comparison of these figures, as each masker permits himself to make gifts to the young ladies whom he invites to dance with him, and incurs other expenses for carriage hire, flowers, etc.

It is a fact not generally known outside of New Orleans that at one time the city boasted of the largest and most sumptuous theater in North America; that it supported the first operatic company in the United States; and that for many years it played in the theatrical world a role as important as New York does at the present time. These and many other interesting features of the musical and dramatic history of New Orleans would be widely known but for the fact that the early glories of the city, in this respect, at least, have been meagerly chronicled. No adequate account of the theaters themselves, nor of the happenings within their walls, has ever been attempted. What has come down to the present time exists in allusions scattered over the files of old newspapers, the memoirs of some of the theater managers of the long ago, a few letters, some reminiscence by old-time theatergoers — but for which the palmiest days of art in New Orleans would be a closed book.

The first dramatic performance in New Orleans dates back to the year 1791, when a troupe of comedians, under the management of Louis Tabary, came from France to New Orleans, and, having neither hall nor place for their performances, were content with appearing in parlors of private houses, and in halls which they could rent for a time. Often the artists had to present their dramas, tragedies and sketches under tents. At last, in the year 1792, they located on St. Peter Street, between Bourbon and Royal streets, in the house now bearing the number 716. At that time the population of New Orleans was not much over 5,000 white citizens. That establishment was named Le Theatre St. Pierre, and as most of the artists were refugees from France, and incarnate demagogues, they interspersed their acts with some of the songs of the Terreur, such as "La Carmagnole" and the "Ça-Ira." The disorders were such that the painting interfered, and the place was closed until the year 1803.

The first parquette in any theatre in New Orleans was put in the Theatre St. Pierre on October 23, 1806. There was some trouble between the managers and the city authorities regarding the alleged unsafe condition of the theatre, and the City Council ordered the place to be closed unless proper repairs were made. In the early part of the year 1807 the Theatre St. Pierre was closed because of a riot between some hoodlums and the police. One year later it was decided to build a real theatre, but after two years the venture proved unsuccessful and the theatre went out of existence under the sheriff's hammer in 1810.

In the meantime another theatre had been erected. In the latter part of the year 1807 a number of theatre-lovers combined to build a theatre which the best element of this city might frequent, and a site was chosen on St. Phillip Street, between Royal and Bourbon streets, on the spot now occupied by the school of that name. The cost was $100,000, and p728Louis Tabary was elected director. The theatre opened its doors on January 30, 1808. The auditorium could accommodate 700 people, and there was a parquette and two rows of boxes. For several years the Theatre St. Philippe was the rendezvous of all the fashionable people of New Orleans. In 1814, for the first time, a ballet was given. During a performance in that year an interesting incident occurred. A captain of a vessel attended the performance on the 7th of December, 1814, and told a few friends about the return of Napoleon from his exile in Elba. The news immediately spread among the audience, and for at least a quarter of an hour the cheers for Napoleon interrupted the performance.

It was worthy of note that the first entertainment in honor of the Declaration of Independence took place at the Theatre St. Philippe, on July 4, 1810. A gala performance was given, the proceeds being devoted to the relief of sufferers by a big fire which occurred on July 1 and destroyed twenty-five houses.

In 1817 the first English dramatic and comedy troupe came to New Orleans, under the management of Mr. J. Ludlow, and he leased the Philippe for one year.

The play presented, as stated for the first time in English, was "The Honeymoon," and the cast was as follows: Duc d'Aranza, John Vaughn; Comte de Montalban, M. Plummer; Jacques, M. Morgan; Roland, N. M. Ludlow; Balthazar, M. Lucas Lampedo, M. H. Vaughn; Julienne, Mme. Vaughn; Zamora, Mme. Ludlow; Volante, Mme. Jones; Hotesse, Mme. Morgan.

Thereafter until the year 1832, when Mr. Caldwell, manager, had a brief season of English comedy, the Theatre St. Philippe declined, and it closed its doors altogether at the end of that year.

In the early part of 1809 an association was formed for the purpose of building a theatre on Orleans Street, between Bourbon and Royal, to cost about $10,000. The first play was presented on November 30, 1809, and the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1813. Another building was erected at a cost of $80,000, and it was at that time considered a most handsome theatre. Four years later a magnificent ballroom was built adjoining the theatre, the outlay being $60,000. In the year 1845 a special performance was given in honor of General Lafayette, who was then on a visit to New Orleans.

The Theatre d'Orleans, however, is remembered chiefly for its connection with the early days of opera in New Orleans. Opera was sung in New Orleans in a small way as early as 1809. It was not, however, till 1837 that serious attention seems to have been given to this form of entertainment. In that year, Mlle. Julia Calvé, a singer of great talent, made her debut at the Theatre d'Orleans, and scored a great success. Her engagement, which lasted till 1840, is considered to mark the beginning of the history of the French opera, as an institution in this city. In 1840 M. Charles Boudousquié, who subsequently became the husband of the fascinating Calvé, recruited in France the first important company of singers to visit New Orleans. They arrived on the ship "Le Vaillant," after a voyage of sixty days, and less than a week later made their appearance at the Theatre d'Orleans in Adams' "Le Chalet," Lecourt, tenor, and Victor, baritone, appearing in the cast. Boudousquié continued to direct the operatic performances at the Orleans till 1859. During that interval many important works were produced, among them "Robert le Diable," in 1840; "William Tell," in 1846; "La Juive," in 1847; "Jerusalem," p729"Lucie de Lammermoor," and "Le Prophete," in 1850; and "Les Huguenots," in 1853.

In 1859 the Theatre d'Orleans was sold to a Mr. Parlange. Boudousquié proposed to continue the lease of the premises, but not being able to accept Mr. Parlange's terms, announced his intention of abandoning the house. Mainly through his exertions the French Opera House Association was incorporated March 4, 1859, with capital stock of $100,000, divided into 200 shares of $500 each. Boudousquié himself was largely interested in the company. Rivière Gardère was chosen president, and the first board of directors was composed of George Urquhart, E. J. McCall, Charles Kock, Gustave Miltenberger, E. Roman, C. Fellows, Charles Roman, Leon Queyrouze and Adolphe Schreiber. A site was purchased at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse streets, and the erection of the present building was begun on April 9, 1859. The architect was James Gallier, and the builders were Gallier & Esterbrook. The work was prosecuted by day and by night, 150 men being kept constantly on duty. The building was completed November 28, 1859, at a cost of $118,500.

In the meantime Boudousquié had, by a contract dated April 12, 1859, undertaken the lease of the new theater. He associated with himself the veteran manager, John Davis. The opera house was formally opened December 1, 1859 with "Guillaume Tell." The principal singers were Mathieu, first tenor; Escarlate, tenor of grand opera; Petit, third tenor; Melchisadek, baritone; Genibrel, first basso; Vauliar, second basso; Mme. St. Urbain, second falcon. Later during the season "Le Trouvère" and "La Fille du Regiment" were produced, and "La Tour de Nesle," "La Dame Aux Camelias," and other French plays were acted, in accordance with a tradition of which the opera had not yet been able to shake itself free. The season of 1860 was likewise successful. The same singers appeared, with the exception that Mme. Brochard replaced Mme. St. Urbain, falcon. On November 8, 1860, the opening night, "Le Barbier de Seville" was presented with Mme. Faure in the role of Rosine. Among the operas which were presented during this season were "La Favorite," "Il Trovatore," "La Juive" and "Robert le Diable." Early in 1861 Adelina Patti made her first appearance at the French Opera House, as Martha, in Flotow's opera of that name. During her engagement Patti sang also in "Les Huguenots," "Robert le Diable," "Charles VI," and "Lucie." In 1862, 1863 and 1864, on account of the Civil war, there were no performances at the Opera House. In January, 1866, an Italian troupe, under the direction of Thioni and Susini, gave a few performances. Paul Alhaiza then became director of the opera. He recruited in France a very large and capable troupe, but the entire membership was lost at sea, October 3, 1866, in the wreck of the steamer "Evening Star." Of the 250 souls on board this ill-fated vessel, only seven escaped. Among those who were lost were Gallier, architect of the opera house, his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Alhaiza, relatives of the impresario. Mr. Alhaiza was, however, able, with the assistance of several excellent artists, to open the season on November 16, when Octave Feuillet's "La Redemption," a comedy in five acts, was presented.


[image ALT: A photograph of the interior of a fairly large theatre with a floor, four curved balconies, and to the left next to the scene (which itself is off-photo) three very large boxes. It is a view of the French Opera House in New Orleans in 1920.]

French Opera House Interior, 1920

The following year M. Alhaiza associated with himself in the management M. Calabressi. A very successful season followed, during which "Romeo and Juliet," "La Belle Helène," and "L'Africaine" were presented for the first time in New Orleans. Dramatic performances and p730opera bouffe were also given. From 1869 to 1873 M. Calabressi was in charge of the opera house. In 1873 the rights and titles of the original company were acquired by L. Placide Canonge for $40,000, and Canonge, acting for a syndicate, resold to the Merchants' Insurance Co., mortgage creditor. Canonge himself assumed the management, which he retained till 1878. In 1879‑1880 the direction was assumed by Max Strakosch. The season of 1880‑1881, under de Beauplan, was one of the most brilliant and successful in the history of the institution. Strakosch returned in 1882, but in the following year was displaced by Desfosse.º In 1883 the French Opera Club, one of the interesting adjuncts of the opera house, was organized. Defosse,º who remained in charge till 1884, was succeeded by Mapleson in 1885, during whose administration Adelina Patti was the leading member of the company. A season of opera bouffe under the management of Durieu followed. From 1886 to 1894, with the exception of the season of 1890‑1891, Maugé was director of the opera. In 1890‑1891 Durieu occupied that position. In 1889 the French Opera Association acquired the building for $50,000 from the Merchants' Insurance Company. Succeeding administrations were: O'Connell, 1893‑1894; Durieu, 1894‑1895; Charley, 1895‑1896 and 1896‑1897; Berriel, 1897‑1898; Charley, 1898‑1899; 1899‑1900, and 1900‑1901; Roberval, 1901‑1902; Charley, 1902‑1903, 1903‑1904; Cazelles, 1904‑1905; Broulatour, 1905‑1906; Henry Russell, 1906‑1907; Mario p731Lombardi, 1907‑1908; Jules Layolle, 1909‑1912; Auguste Affre, 1913‑1914; H. B. Loeb (manager) and Louis Verande (impresario), 1919‑1920. During the season of 1908‑1909 there was no opera. From 1914 to 1919 the opera was suspended on account of the war and the impossibility of bringing a company from Europe.

The following is a list of the singers who composed the different troupes.b They are named in the order of tenors, baritones, bassos, falcons, chanteuses légères and dugazons:c

1859 — Boudousquié & Davis Management — Mathieu, Ecarlat, Petit, Melchisedec, Vanlair;º Mmes. St. Urbain, Geismar, Feitlinger, Pretti.

1860 — Boudousquié & Davis Management — Mathieu, Philippe, Cabel, Melchisedec, Genebrel, Vaulair;º Mmes. Lacombe, Borchard, Faure, Pretti, Frezzolini. Adelina Patti opened in December, 1860, in "Lucia," and sang for about two months.

1865 — Strakosch Management — Messrs. Macaferri, Erani, Mancusi, Maria, Susini, Graff; Mmes. Ghioni, Canissa, Strakosch, Parozzi, Zaphizzi.

1866 — Thioni and Susini Management — Messrs. Irfre, Erani, Maria, Ardivani, Susini, Coletti, Puiseppi, Leocatelli; Mmes. Ghioni, Strakosch, Canissa, Parozzi.

1867 — Roncari Management — Messrs. Boetti, Fabbri, Strozzi, Ottiviani, Rocco, Solari; Mmes. Cattinari, Tomassi, Phodovaski.

1867º — Alhaiza & Calebresi Management — Messrs. Picot, Damiani, Lechevalier, Van Hufflen, Dupin; Mmes. Fanschetti, Lambelle, Prevostº Sequin and Audibert.

1868 — Alhaiza & Calebresi Management — Messrs. Picot, Engel, Peront, Van Hufflen, and Mmes. Cambier, Hasselman, Bourgeois, Lambelle, Cheauveau, Guy Cave and Boudreau.

1869 — Opera Association Management — Messrs. Michot, Ketten, Koletz, Dumestre, Thery, Depassio, Merglet, and Mmes. Arnal, Dupuy, Zeiss, Dumestre, Mineur, Pottier and Boudreau.

1870 — Opera Association Management — Messrs. Cazeau, Lefranc, De Keghel, Dumestre, Thery, Castelmary, Perier, and Mmes. Rozes, Naddi, De Edelberg, Dumestre and Boudreau.

1871 — Opera Association Management — Messrs. Delabranche, Blum, Jourdan, Dumestre, Solve, Coulon, Perier, and Mmes. Levielli, Naddi, Goethals, Durand Hitchcock, Dumestre and Boudreau.

1873 — Canonge Management — Messrs. Gaymard, Gadihle, Duquercy, Devovor, Lourde, Mayan, Feitlinger, Douval, and Mmes. Furche-Madier,º Lagye, Moisset, Denain, Devoyod, Carrini and Boudreau.

1874 — Canonge Management — Messrs. Chelli, Gadihle, Laurent, Meric, Dardagnac, Feitlinger No. 1,º Degreef, and Mmes. Verchen, De Joly, Liogier and Teoni.

1877 — Pappenheim (German) Management — Messrs. Adams, Fritche, Tagliapetra, Blum, Adolph, Weigand, and Mmes. Pappenheim, Human, Grimminger, Phillips and Coony.

1879 — Strakosch (Italian) Management — Messrs. Petrovich, Baldanza, Lazarini, Storti, Gottschalk, Castelmary, and Mmes. Singer, Litta, Belocca, Valerga, LeBranche, Ricci, Lancaster.

1880 — DeBeauplan Management — Messrs. Tournie, Pellin, Escala, Utto, Mauge, Jourdan, Feitlinger No. 2, and Mmes. Ambre, Delpratto, p732De Meric, La Blache, Nina La Blache, Nicolopulo, Pilliard, Lagye and De Villeray.

1881 — Strakosch Management — Messrs. Giannini, Perugini, Ciapini, Sweet, Mancini, and Mmes. Gerster, Leslino, Prasini, Lancaster, Roseveldt and Carrington.

1882 — Defossezº Management — Messrs. Tournie, De Ermence, Puget, Delrat, Kastner, Jourdan and Kraitz, and Mmes. Hasselman, Panchioni, Fouquet, Bernardi, Geraiser, Belia.

1883 — Defossez Management — Messrs. Lestellier, Valdejo, Richard, Mauge, Jourdan, Bonhives and Mmes. Villanova, Varelli-Jauquet, Jouanny, Dorsay and Tevini.

1884 — Mapleson Management — Messrs. Giannin,º Cardinali, Vincini, DeAnna, Cherubini and Pasqualis and Mmes. Patti, Scalchi, Fursch-Madi,º Sarrugia, Steinbach, Dotti and Nevada.

1885 — Durieu Management, Comic Opera — Messrs. Caisso, Lefevre, Tony Reine, Chamonin, Marchand and Mmes. Reine, Caisso, Thale and Aubert.

1886 — Mauge Management — Messrs. Van Loo, Voilequoin, Mauge, Vernouillet and Mmes. Derevis, Romeldi, Rosa Weyns, Rita Lelong and Vernet.

1887 — Mauge Management — Messrs. Berger, Garaud, Genin, Claverie, St. Jean, Denoyers, Coste and Mmes. De Rinkley, Garelli, Hervey and Grandel.

1888 — Mauge Management — Messrs. Berger, Lafarge, Peguillon, Claverie, Mauge, Pelisson, Plain, Feitlinger No. 2 and Mmes. Schwyer-Lematte, Vanderie Flachat, Hervey, Chelyns and Lovely.

1889 — Mauge Management — Messrs. Furst, Mary, Guille, Maire, Balleroy, Saccareau, St. Jean, Debord, Geoffrey and Mmes. Daurlac, Leavington, Beretta, D'Argy, Valgalier and Remy.

1890 — Durieu Management — Messrs. Cossira, Gerger, Merite, Cottet, Boret, Contellier, Ceste, Balleroy, Poirier, Chavaroch,º Sylvain, Stephane, and Mmes. Martini, Briard, Cottet, Dynah Duquesne, Potel, Bernard, Plantain and Couturier.

1891 — Mauge Management — Messrs. Paulin, Verhees, Jahn, Rosamon, Guillemot, Rey, Bordeneuve, Dulin and Mmes. Baux, Caignard, Guillemot-Thuringer, Priolaud, Vieusse, Duvivier, Vallier, Maes and Conti.

1892 — Mauge Management — Messrs. Raynaud, Lafarge, Gluck, Contellier, Chauvrau, Dethurens, Malzac, Hourdin, Darval and Mmes. Schwyer-Lematte, Jau Boyer, Monnier, Bondues, Lita, Nazat, Urbain, Lea, Santi.

1893 — Guarantee Association Management — Messrs. Devilliers, Soubeyron, Dolleon, Merly, Martel, Devries, Montfort, Fonteynes, Gardoni, Darmand, Michon, and Mmes. Tylda, Laffon, Devianne, Marsa, Cognault, Weldon, Mary, Bloch, Lecion, Henman, Le Nonteuil.

1894 — Durieu Management — Messrs. Anasty, Jourdan, Boon, Bailly, Garrigues, Soum, Freiche, Chavaroche,º Guillien, Lamarche, Seurin; Mmes. Fanny Laville, Dargissonne, Mouravieffe, Darcy, Delorme, Plantain, St. Laurent, Chatillon and Syveral.

1896 — Charley Management — Messrs. Massart, Prevost, Deo, Albers, Freiche, Athes, Javid; Mmes. Jane Foeder, Pascal, Berthet, Combes, Freman-Benati, Savine, Lafeuillade, De Consoli.

p733 1898 — Charley Management — Messrs. Gibert, Gauthier, Richard, Barthe, Gaidue, Godefrey, Bouxmann, Darnaud, Fabre; Mmes. Fierens, Daizen, Marochetti, Berges, Pouget, Savine, Freman-Benati.

1899 — Charley Management — Messrs. Bonnard, Casset, Ansaldi, Gauthier, Dambrine, Salvator, Layolle, Rosei, Bouxmann, Zery, Berenquier; Mmes. Lina Pacary, Therese Clement, Etta Madier de Montjau, Valdez, Valenza, Savine, Jarie, Frasset, Berthet and Consoli.

1900 — Berriel Management — Messrs. Jerome, Chastan, Genin, Dequesne, Joubatte, Roche, Chais, Balleroy, Lassalli, Eleider, Bouxmann, Dufour, Delamarre, Douchet, Meycelle; Mmes. Talexis, Nina Pack, Bonheur-Chais, Doux, Monbazon, Sonnet, Kervan and De Goyon.

1901 — Roverval Management — Messrs. Duc, Henderson, Paz, Queyla, Occellier, Ceste, Villette, Bouxmann, Karloni; Mmes. Jane Foeder, Brietti, Chambellan, Narici, Rachel Laya, De Ter, Faury, Berat, Mico and Stella Bossi.

1902 — Charley Management — Messrs. Jerome, Duc, De Mauroy, Paz, Mezy, Sainprey, Bouxmann, Henri Dons, Darmand; Mmes. Jane Foeder, Guinchant, Courtenay, Faure, Rambly, Dartes, Feitlinger, Mico and Villa.4

1903 — Tenors, Garoute, Mikaelly, Ayrot, Leroux, Gautier; baritones, Layolle, Montfort; bassos, Loussiez,º Lambriet, Launay de Wundt; falcons, Guinchan, Teneski, Lussiez;º chanteuses légères, Frandaz, Packbiers; contralto, Bressler-Gianoli; dugazons, Dartes, Mico, Fouquet.

1904 — No opera. Under the management of F. Cazelles, a season of French drama was given.

1905 — Tenors, Ausaldi, Lucas, Leprestre; baritones, Mezy, Vialas; bassos, Vallier, Baer; falcons, Galli, Sylvia; chanteuses légères, Walter, Villa, Grandjean, Arald; contralto, Bertha Sovier; dugazons, Van der Berg, Verande.

1906 — Tenors, Martin, Constantino; baritones, Seguerola; falcons, Neilson, Reynes.

1907 — Lombardi Opera Company.

1908 — No opera.

1909 — Tenors, Escalais, Zocchi; baritones, Harsatto, Charal; bassos, Huberty, Carque, Lacombre; falcons, Demedy, Fierans; chanteuses légères, Cahuzac; dugazons, Sterckmans, Allard.

1910 — No opera.

1911 — Tenors, Granie, Bruzi, Couval, Ariel; baritones, Closset, Coubes, Montano; bassos, Sylvestre, Beckmans; chanteuses légères, Lavarene, Korshoff; contralto, Fierans; falcons, Beaumont.

1912 — Tenors, Affre, Putzani; baritones, Montano; chanteuses légères, Yerna, Charpentier; falcons, Thiery, Avelly; basso, Bouxman.º

1913 — Tenors, Affre, de Lerick, Coulons; baritones, Mezy, Combes; bassos, Caravia, Bernard, Brauet; chanteuses légères, Lavarenne,º Mauze; falcons, Lise Brias, Dalcia.

1914‑1919º — No opera.

1919º — Tenors, Perissee, Conrad; falcons, Gripon; chanteuses légères, Vogel, De Leys; baritones, Paulus.5

p734 A great many famous French operatic and dramatic works have been produced in New Orleans for the first time in America. The following is a list of the more important:

1803 to 1808 at the Theatre St. Pierre, "Richard Coeur de Lion," "Pizarre ou la Conquête du Perou," "Eugenie," dramas; "Beaumarchais," "Le Chasseur et la Laitiere," operas; "La Foret Noire," "Le Distrait," comedies; "Une heure de Menage," opera; "Crispin, Médecin," comedy, and "Le Petit Page," drama.

1808‑1810, at the Theatre St. Pierre — "La Forte Secrete," comedy; "L'Avare" of Moliere; "Le Misanthrope," of Moliere; "Ma Tante Aurore," opera in five acts, of Boieldieu; "Romeo and Juliet," opera.

1807‑1832, Theatre St. Philippe — January 30, 1808, "Une Folie," comic opera in two acts by Mehul; June 4, 1808, "L'Exile en Siberie," drama. June 11, 1808, "Le Jugement de Midas," opera; in 1816, "Le Billet de Loterie," opera.

1809, Theatre D'Orleans — November 30, 1809, debut of the troupe in "Pataques," comedy; December 20, 1809, "Romeo and Juliet," second presentation; in 1810, "La Muette de Portici," opera; "Fanchon la Veilleuse," opera-vaudeville.

From 1820 to 1825 the performances at the Orleans Theatre were a succession of dramas, vaudeville and operas, among which can be cited: "Lully et Quinault," opera; "La Serenade," comic opera, and in 1831, "Napoleon," drama, and "La Dame Blanche," drama. The first production of "Le Barbier de Seville" was in 1837 with Julie Calvé, in the principal role of Rosine.

1840 to 1850 first productions of "Le Domino Noir," "La Muette de Portici," "l'Eclair," "L'Ambassadrice," and others.

January 15, 1841, "La Double Echelle," opera of Thomas; February, 1843, "Le Rossignol," opera, and a few nights later the first production of Donizetti's opera, "La Favorite." There was a brief season of drama, as for instance, "La Tour de Nesle," and Victor Hugo's drama, "Ruy Blas."

It was at that time that the initial performances of the well-known operas: "La Juive," "La Fille du Regiment," "Robert Le Diable," "La Sirene," "Les Martyrs," "Lucrece Borgia," "Le Fou de Le Diable,"º "Haydee," of Auber; "Jerusalem," "Lucie," "Le Prophete," "Le Caid," "La Fee aux Roses," of Halévy; "Semiramis," "Charles VI," "La Reine de Chypre," "Les Huguenots," were presented at the Theatre d'Orleans.

1859, French Opera House – Opening night, first performance of "Guillaume Tell," December 1, 1859. November 8, 1860, first production of "Il Trovatore."6

Following is a list of the operas produced in New Orleans since 1860. Those marked by an asterisk were produced here for the first time in America:

1860 — March 19: "Rigoletto." (On February 6, 1861, Patti sang this opera for the first time on any stage.)

1861 — March 4: "Le Pardon de Ploermel" (with Patti as Dinorah).

1866 — November 7: "Crispino e la Comare" (Ricci); November 12, "Faust."

p735 1867 — February 1: "Un Ballo in Maschera;" February 8, "Ione," or "The Last Days of Pompeii" (Petrella); February 15, "Linda di Chamouni."

1869 — December 18: "L'Africaine."

1870 — February 24: "Romeo and Juliet" (Gounod).

1875 — March 11: "Don Sebastian" (Donizetti).

1877 — November 29: "The Flying Dutchman;" December 3, "Lohengrin" (Italian) (French, March 4, 1889); December 11, "Fidelio" (Italian); December 12, "Tannhäuser" (Italian).

1878 — December 6: "Aida."

1881 — January 14: "Carmen" (with Mmes. Ambre and Tournie); January 19, "Mefistofele" (Italian) (French, February 17, 1894); January 31, "Paul and Virginia" (with Mme. Ambre).

1885 — January 29: "Merille" (Italian).

1886 — *December 6: "Les Petits Mousquetaires."

1887 — February 3: "Rip Van Winkle" (Planquette).

1888 — *January 12: "Le Tribut de Zamora" (Gounod).

1889 — December 19: "Le Songe d'une Nuit d'Ete" (Thomas).

1890 — *January 23: "Le Roi d'Ys" (Lalo); February 23, "Le Cid" (Massenet).

1891 — *December 24: "Sigurd" (with Paulin and Mme. Baux).

1892 — January 3: "Cavalleria Rusticana" (English) (French, January 21, 1897); *February 13: "Herodiade."

1893 — *January 4: "Samson and Delila" (with Renaul and Mme. Mounier); February 1, "Lakme;" February 10, "Esclarmonde."

1894 — January 4: "Manon" (Massenet"); January 31, "Les Pecheurs de Perles."

1894º — *November 3: "Werther" (Massenet).

1895 — *January 5: "Richard III" (Salvayre); December 18, "Die Walküre" (German); December 19, "Siegfried" (German); December 20, "Die Götterdämmerung" (German); December 21, "Tristan and Isolde" (German).

1897 — January 5: "La Navarraise" (with Deo and Mme. Foedor); February 9, "Benvenuto Cellini" (with Albers); February 20, "I Pagliacci" (with Massart, Albers and Foedor).

1899 — *January 12: "La Reine de Saba" (Gounod).

1900 — *January 25: "Salammbô" (Reyer); *December 29, "La Vivandiere" (Gounod).

1901 — January 31: "La vie de Boheme" (Puccini).

1902 — January 28: "La Gioconda;" *December 23, "Cendrillon" (Massenet).

1903 — January 29: "Messaline."

1905 — January 22: "Othello" (Verdi) (English); January 25, "Tosca" (English) (Italian, December 26, 1907) (French, December 28, 1911); April 24, "Parsifal" (German).

1906 — *January 31: "Siberia" (Giordano); February 24, "Amici" (Mascagni).

1907 — *January 5: "Adrienne Lecouvreur" (Cilea); January 9, "Madame Butterfly" (English) (French, January 6, 1912).

1908 — January 29: "Fedora" (Giordano) (Italian).

1909 — November 25: "Louise;" December 11, "Le Jongleur de Notre Dame;" December 25, "Hansel und Gretel."

1910 — December 15: "Thais."

p736 1911 — January 19: "L'Attaque du Moulin" (Bruneau); *February 11, "Le Chemineau" (Leroux).

1912 — *January 27: "Don Quichotte."

1913 — January 4: "Quo Vadis;" December 27, "Sapho."

1914 — February 3: "Phryne" (Saint-Saens); February 15, "L'Arlesienne" (Bizet).7

In 1916, the French Opera House was purchased and presented to Tulane University by an unknown donor. On December 2, 1919, the building was destroyed by fire. The cause of the fire was never ascertained. The loss was about $150,000, including music valued at from $7,000 to $10,000.

In addition to the opera, lovers of music in New Orleans have had access to the best modern music as a result of the labors of the New Orleans Philharmonic Society. This organization came into existence in 1906, largely through the efforts of Miss Corrine Mayer, Mr. and Mrs. H. T. Howard, and other enthusiastic amateurs. The charter members included Miss Mayer, Mr. and Mrs. Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Kaiser, Mr. and Mrs. E. von Meysenbug, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Phillips, J. V. Dugan, Ferdinand Dunkley, Harry B. Loeb, S. W. Weis, Miss Mary Scott, Mrs. Christian Schertz, and a few others. J. V. Dugan was the first president and H. B. Loeb the first secretary-treasurer. The intention at first was merely to bring prominent artists to the city. With that end in view the dues were fixed at $5. Three concerts were given during the season of 1906‑7. In 1912 the society was re-organized, and the management was taken over completely by the women-members. Harold Bauer, who happened to be in the city at that time, assisted in working out the details of the new plan, which was based upon the experience of a similar organization in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Bauer gave the first subscription towards a sinking fund; but since that year no donations have been required, as the society has been self-supporting. Among the ladies who figured prominently in the re-organization may be mentioned Mrs. H. T. Howard, Mrs. R. E. DeBuys, Mrs. Philip Werlein, Mrs. L. R. Maxwell, Mrs. V. Trezevant, Mrs. J. W. Phillips, and Mrs. Mark Kaiser. Under the auspices of the Philharmonic Society most of the great modern concert artists have appeared in the city. In addition, free concerts are given in the public schools of the city by local artists and amateurs, under the direction of Miss Mary Conway, chairman of the committee in charge of this branch of the society's work. This work has lately been extended to the asylums of the city. There is also an afternoon series for the benefit of students and music lovers in general, under the general superintendence of Miss Mamie Molony and Mrs. Joseph Haspel. The society has also a committee which undertakes to provide for the education of a gifted New Orleans musician, the funds for this purpose being raised independently of those required for the concert work which alone is, properly, within the sphere of the organization.

It is now necessary to consider the development of the drama, which has had in New Orleans a history of even greater interest than the opera. The earliest theaters were given up to performances in the French language, p737but drama in English was introduced at an early date. James H. Caldwell, the founder of the American drama in New Orleans and the leading manager of local theaters during the first half of the century, gave performances in English at the St. Philip in 1820. He came to New Orleans with a company which included the elder Booth, Barrett, and other players destined to fame in later years.

The "American Theater" or "The Camp," as it was familiarly known, the first American playhouse built in Louisiana, was erected in 1822, Caldwell himself laying the foundation stone with Masonic rites. The building, which seated 1,100 people, stood on the west side of Camp Street, between Gravier and Poydras. It was opened in May, 1823, with Reynold's comedy, "The Dramatist," and a farce called "The Romp." This, which cost $120,000, was the first playhouse erected in the upper part of the city. When it was built there were no houses nearer to it than Common Street. It could be reached only by a narrow plank walk laid over swampy ground. It was almost inaccessible in rainy weather. In spite of all handicaps, however, it proved successful. Almost every distinguished artist of the time appeared there, few theaters in the country excelling it in the excellenceº of its productions.

p738 In 1824 Edwin Forrest, then but 18 years of age, became a regular member of its stock company. He was but one of a large number of great actors who acted regularly before the critical audiences of that era. Caldwell himself was an English actor of some reputation and a friend of the Keans and the Kembles, and other celebrities, some of whom he brought to New Orleans. Like other managers of his epoch, he was an artist rather than a business man. It was good luck as much as by enterprise and efficiency that he made a large fortune with his American theater. His success led him to more ambitious undertakings. The "Camp" later became Armory Hall and stood until 1881, when it was demolished. This building was the first to be lighted by gas in New Orleans.


[image ALT: A drawing of the street façade of a small 2‑story building with an arcade along the front supported on improbably thin columns, above which can be seen 8 windows with deep awnings and the very prominent inscription: 'St. Charles Theatre'. As you might expect, it is a view of the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans.]

St. Charles Theatre

The second American theater, known as the "New American," was erected for Caldwell in 1840 on Poydras Street, near Camp. Caldwell gave up the management three years later. In 1848 the handsome structure was torn down. The site was occupied afterwards by the famous iron Moresque building. Caldwell then built his last and greatest theater, the first St. Charles Theater, a magnificent edifice to which he was accustomed magniloquently to allude as "The Temple of the Drama." No other playhouse in this country could compare with it in size or splendor of decoration. Only three auditoriums of Europe, those of the opera houses of Naples, Milan and Vienna surpassed it. This great structure cost $350,000, a vast sum in those days. It was begun and completed in 1835. It opened with "The School for Scandal" and "The Spoiled Child." The theater, with its forty-seven boxes and 4,000 seats, amazed its first audience with its magnificence. The central dome, with its mammoth chandelier, was long one of the local marvels. This chandelier, which weighed 4,200 pounds, was manufactured in London and the like p739had never been seen in America, with its 250 gas lights and 23,300 cut-glass drops. But the glory of this playhouse was ephemeral. Like the majority of the local theaters of the past century it was burned to the ground. This happened in 1842. Since that time no other theater comparable to it has been erected in New Orleans.

Immediately after the destruction of the first St. Charles, a second by the same name was built on the same site by Noah M. Ludlow and Sol Smith, rivals of Caldwell, and equally famous as managers. These three controlled most of the leading theaters of the South in the days preceding the Civil war. The second St. Charles, which occupied a site on St. Charles Street, between Poydras and Commercial alley, saw more famous actors on its stage than any other theater in this country. Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin Booth, Joe Jefferson, J. H. McVicker, W. J. Florence, Tom Placide, Charlotte Cushman, J. H. Hackett, Jenny Lind, Keane, Boucicault, Macready, and Fanny Ellsler, were among a crowd of the celebrities who trod its boards. The St. Charles, affectionately termed "Old Drury," was constantly used until the end of the century and is still remembered by thousands of Orleanians. It was burnt about twenty years ago.

Next door to the St. Charles was the Academy of Music, a smaller theater built in 1853 to be used as a circus by David Bidwell, long its manager. At the Academy was inaugurated the matinee system in New Orleans. Its manager was the first in this country to develop the idea of a theatrical circuit. The attractions of the house were increased by the addition of a museum of natural history. This consisted of a few curios housed in a foyer on the second floor. Distinguished actors came to the Academy, but it was also used by minstrel shows and burlesque. The theater burned down about the beginning of the present century.


[image ALT: An engraving of a small 3‑story building, in which the upper two stories are fronted by a disproportionately tall classical portico of just two columns plus the antae at either side. It is a view of the Varieties Theatre in New Orleans.]

Varieties Theatre

One of the most important playhouses in New Orleans was Placide's "Varieties," which stood on Gravier, between Carondelet and Baronne, near the site of the present Cotton Exchange. Varieties Alley still preserves its name. The house opened in 1849 under the management of Tom Placide, who was himself an actor, and not infrequently took part in the plays which he produced. It was built by an association known as the "Varieties Club," which came into existence in 1849, but which was connected with another dramatic club, the Histrionics, the origin of which has been traced back as far as the year 1840. The theater burned in 1854 and was rebuilt the next year, opening under the management of Dion Boucicault, who called it "The Gaiety." It regained its old name and burned again in 1870. The proprietors now changed the location of their theater, purchasing land in Canal Street and Dauphine, where the Maison Blanche stands.

This last Varieties, which was afterwards called the Grand Opera House, was opened in 1871. It was for many years under the control of Lawrence Barrett, who played here for the first time in the classical repertoire which later gained him lasting fame. The theater was one of the best known in the South. Its staircase, which was once 100 feet long, was one of the finest in any American playhouse. The building was torn down in 1899.


[image ALT: A drawing of the street façade of a 3‑story building occupying most a city block, in the classical style with a ground-floor arcade, above which the 2d and 3d stories form a unit with applied pilasters, surmounted by a pedimented roof complete with an assortment of antefixes. It is a view of the National Theatre in New Orleans.]

National Theatre
on Baronne and Perdido Streets

Of importance in the theatrical annals of the city were also the National, originally built by a syndicate for the production of German plays and called for a time the German National. It occupied the site of the present De Soto Hotel on Baronne Street, and had a long and p740varied history, being finally burned in 1885. The German dramatic societies then patronized the Grunewald Hall, on Baronne Street, demolished to make way for the present Hotel Grunewald.

The older generation will remember a few other places of amusement such as the Globe Theater and the Bijou, the Avenue Theater, which stood on St. Charles Avenue, and the Garden District Theater, on Magazine Street, near Washington Avenue, all of which were in existence before the end of the century, but these played a comparatively slight role in the development of dramatic art in this city. The same may be said of the Lafayette, built about ten years ago.8

In 1898 Klaw & Erlanger, a well-known New York booking agency, opened the Tulane and the Crescent theaters, at the corners of Baronne and Tulane avenue. The Crescent was the largest house, with a seating capacity of 1,800. The Tulane, though smaller — having room for only about 1,400 spectators, was more luxurious in its appointments. The former is used for popular priced entertainments. The latter has always been devoted to the presentation of high-class attractions. W. H. Rowles was manager for both theaters for many years, and was succeeded by the present incumbent, T. C. Campbell.

After the destruction of the St. Charles by fire, a new theater was erected on the spot which was opened in 1901 under a lease held by the p741Orpheum Circuit. In 1920 this company erected its own playhouse on Dryades Street, near Canal.

An interesting experiment in the drama was started in 1919 largely through the efforts of Mrs. J. O. Nixon and Mrs. A. Goldberg. An organization hitherto known as the Drawing Room Players, under their leadership evolved into the Little Theater, at present established in the Pontalba buildings, overlooking Jackson Square. Here amateur productions of the most modern drama are given to select audiences.

New Orleans supports a large number of moving picture theaters, established since 1910. Among the most important are the Trianon, the Tudor, the Strand, the Globe, and the Palace. There are also several vaudeville theaters of recent origin, among which may be mentioned Loew's and the Louisiana.


The Author's Notes:

1 See the Picayune, February 7, 1910.

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2 Soulé, "The Carnival in New Orleans." This brochure was printed by the author, who was "king" of the carnival in 1887. Dr. Soulé states that Marigny introduced the carnival into New Orleans in the year mentioned in the text.

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3 The call for the organization of the maskers on this occasion was published in the Times, January 31, 1872. Charles T. Howard furnished the first contribution towards the expenses of the enterprise. See also the Times, February 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, 14, 1872. It is said that 5,000 maskers took part in this inaugural parade. On April 4 the State Legislature recognized the success of the celebration by making Mardi Gras a legal holiday.

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4 Picayune, November 8, 1903.º

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5 I am indebted for the foregoing list to Emile Durieu, who for twenty-two years was connected with the French Opera House, in capacity of treasurer.

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6 James M. Augustin, "Fifty Years of the French Opera," in Picayune, October 24, 1909.

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7 This list is taken from an article on the French Opera, by Mary M. Conway, in the Item, December 3, 1919.

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8 See Times-Picayune, March 3, 1910; May 9, 1920.


Thayer's Notes:

a Winnie Davis was the daughter of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, born to him during the war. She died at 34 in 1898, and her magnificent funeral saw an outpouring of Southern affection.

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b Throughout this chapter, but especially in the long lists that follow, there is every evidence that many of the names have been garbled either by Kendall, or, more likely, by his sources. The names even of the best-known singers and operas are occasionally mangled, and many of the obscurer names are philologically unlikely — Fanschetti should probably be Franschetti or Fanchetti, Calabressi and Calebresi should probably be CalabresiCheauveau should probably be Chauveau etc.; Durand Hitchcock is probably not one person but two: Durand, Hitchcock, etc.; and many others, as for instance Le Fou de Le Diable. It also seems clear that some people are hiding under multiple names, as for example Fursch-Madi and Furche-Madier. Finally Kendall, never much on French, has also omitted all the accents: while I could restore some, others are impossible to divine, so in that respect I've left his text pretty much as is, restoring only those few the omission of which particularly irritated me. Because of the obscurity of the persons involved, I've been unable to make all the corrections, and have restored only the names of which I am absolutely certain (except for the various permutations of Philippe, which I've spelled in the standard way thruout), and noted what appear to be inconsistencies in the names of single individuals: reader be forewarned.

It should also be noted that the French-language bias in New Orleans leads to unexpected names for some of the operas in this chapter: Il Trovatore for example is given as such, but also as Il Trouvatore and Le Trouvère.

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c The word has pretty much fallen out of use; see the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911) article Jean Dugazon.


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Page updated: 9 Nov 12