Research seminars

Charlotte Bentley | New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819-1859

Event details

Speaker: Charlotte Bentley (University of Edinburgh, Reid School of Music)

Date: 25 September 2019

Time: 3.15 - 5.00pm.  

Venue: Alison House, Atrium (G10)



This paper is about nineteenth-century New Orleans and the people who made it a vital, if unexpected, part of an emerging operatic world. Managers, performers, and professionals of all sorts—musicians and non-musicians—forged connections that led to the establishment of a transatlantic system of opera production, while also helping to shape opera’s meanings for new audiences inside and outside of the theatre. Home to the first (and for some thirty years, the only) permanent opera company in the United States, New Orleans offers an unusually vivid insight into the processes involved in opera’s spread beyond Europe in this period.

At the geographical and cultural heart of the city sat the francophone Théâtre d’Orléans (fl. 1819-1859), run by Paris-born entrepreneur John Davis and his son, Pierre. I will use this institution as a starting point to explore how opera reached audiences across boundaries of class, nationality, language, and race in the city, as well as how individuals connected to the theatre strove to disseminate ideas about opera in wider society, through periodicals, sheet music, and novels. The theatre struck a delicate balance between local, national, and international processes and concerns, and I argue that this allowed New Orleans to develop a transatlantic identity that was both unique and at the same time deeply connected with Europe and the United States.

Challenging the notion of an operatic world determined by centres and peripheries, I position New Orleans as a place ‘in-between’, or, to borrow Fabrício Prado’s term, an ‘interaction zone’: between America and Europe, between an emerging nation and an imperial legacy, and in myriad other ways besides. Opera, I argue, played a vital role in the meaningful construction of this in-betweenness for people on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half of the nineteenth century, not simply reflecting levels of global interconnection, but actively helping to create them.  




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Sep 25 2019 -

Charlotte Bentley | New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819-1859

Charlotte Bentley discusses opera in New Orleans in the early nineteenth century.

Alison House
12 Nicolson Square