Bringing opera to Bourbon Street in New Orleans

Bringing opera to Bourbon Street in New Orleans
October 1, 2009

Bourbon Street - where Dixieland jazz competes with karaoke bars, rock and roll cover bands and strip club jukeboxes - also is 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 Bohème" and "Carmen."


The lounge is 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 theaters in New Orleans until it burned to the ground in 1919.

"We're bringing opera back to Bourbon Street," says 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 antiques shops, it sits near a row of strip clubs and across the street from a huge sign advertising "3-for-1" drink specials.

While a century ago men in tuxedos and ladies in gowns would have arrived for the opera by horse-drawn carriage, today passersby meander into The Inn's street-level lounge in casual attire to hear opera. Ables said she plans to have loudspeakers broadcast some of the performances out into the street.


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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," he says.


Opera performances at the Inn on Bourbon are scheduled monthly through next summer, though Ables said she hopes to make them a permanent fixture at the hotel. The first show was Sept. 24, and the next is slated for next Saturday. Accompanied by a pianist, singers belted songs from "La Bohème," "Carmen" and "The Valkyrie" as onlookers - some of whom had just strolled in off Bourbon Street - sipped cocktails and wine.

"It was very exciting and, for me, it was more entertaining than the other stuff out there on Bourbon Street," said Dana Stromberg of Ardmore, Okla., who wore cropped pants and a T-shirt as she watched the performance.


Opera at the Inn on Bourbon

541 Bourbon St., 800-535-7891

Free "Opera on Tap" performances will be Nov. 4, Jan. 6 and March 3. Free "Bon Operatit!" performances will be Oct. 10, Dec. 11, Jan. 23, Feb. 14, March 20, April 9, April 30, May 28, June 18 and Aug. 13. Inn room rates begin at $89 a night.
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