In 1796, Josephine said “I do” to Napoleon, Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, and New Orleans, still under Spanish rule, was treated to “Sylvain,’ the city’s first documented performance of opera.
It wasn’t long before New Orleans became "The Opera Capital of North America." The French Opera House –Théâtre de l'Opéra– was the center of New Orleans social life from 1859 until 1919 when it was destroyed by fire. Works by European master composers such as Verdi, Rossini and Bellini had their American premieres at the French Opera House and other theaters in town.
Since 1943, the New Orleans Opera Association has been the leading presenting organization for opera in the Gulf South. And here’s a bit of trivia: Mario Lanza, Luciano Pavarotti and Beverly Sills have all graced the stage in New Orleans, and Placido Domingo began his professional career here. At the age of 21, this relatively unknown talent from Mexico was brought in to sing Arturo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” In 2006, the famous tenor came back to the city for “A Night for New Orleans.” The benefit concert was the first opera performance in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. He returned again with great fanfare in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first performance here.