Life & Style

Love, hate and hot sauce: New Orleans revives 1894 Tabasco opera

Love, hate and hot sauce are themes of a 19th century comic opera being produced this week as a kickoff to New Orleans’ 300th anniversary. It’s also the 150th anniversary for Tabasco sauce and the New Orleans Opera’s 75th.

“Tabasco: a Burlesque Opera” had been stuck in an attic for more than a century when conductor Paul Mauffray found a program from its 1894 tour in archives for the opera company and its predecessors.

“At first I thought it couldn’t be Tabasco — that Tabasco hadn’t been around that long,” Mauffray said. But an official history of McIlhenny Co ., which makes the sauce, showed that Tabasco predated the opera by 26 years, and that McIlhenny had sponsored the original tour.

The Tabasco-making company underwrote the sold-out production running Thursday to Sunday.

Composer George Whitefield Chadwick was well known in his day, Mauffray said, and if “Tabasco” had its due, “it would be the founding cornerstone of our American history in the opera. It was not just some little show that was done here once. It was the most popular American opera from the pre-20th century.”

Opera has been a big part of New Orleans’ social and musical scene going back to the late 1700s. Mauffray was trying to learn more of its history when he found the program in a box in 2009.