64 Parishes

Orleans Theatre

The Théâtre d’Orléans , established in 1815, was located on Orleans Avenue between Royal and Bourbon streets in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Orleans Theatre

Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection

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Established in 1815, the Théâtre d’Orléans was located on Orleans Avenue between Royal and Bourbon streets in the French Quarter of New Orleans. As was the fate of many theaters in the nineteenth century, it fell victim to fire. During the administration of New Orleans mayor Augustin de Macarty in 1818, John Davis, the theater’s manager and a St. Dominguan refugee, successfully obtained a loan of $12,000 to rebuild the theater (though the eventual cost of the building escalated to $180,000). Davis personally sought performers from France, thus providing New Orleans with both a superior facility for the staging of operas and excellent talent. As a result of his vision, New Orleans soon became the premier city for the introduction of French opera into the United States.

The Théâtre d’Orléans was an important cultural venue not only to the city but also to the nation. Davis introduced to New Orleans recently premiered operas from the great stages of Europe. Between 1828 and 1833, he produced the American debuts of no fewer than four operas by Gioachino Rossini at the Théâtre d’Orléans. Of equal importance was Davis’s continued search for performers of international caliber, such as the soprano Julie Calvé and the conductor Eugene Prevost. In 1838, one ship alone brought the new conductor, an assistant conductor, two women soloists, a bass, a tenor, two violinists, a cellist, a bassoonist, and six other singers.

In an effort to keep his European performers occupied during the intolerable summer heat of New Orleans, Davis would tour his productions to the northeastern United States. These tours in 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1833, 1843, and 1845 were critical to the development of opera in the United States. During the 1840s and 1850s, the theater repeatedly delighted audiences with the most recently composed operas. From the 1841–42 season through the 1859–60 season, the Orleans Theater presented 1,550 performances of 109 operas by 35 composers.