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New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819–1859

A history of nineteenth-century New Orleans and the people who made it a vital, if unexpected, part of an emerging operatic world.

New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819–1859 explores the thriving operatic life of New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century, drawing out the transatlantic connections that animated it. By focusing on a variety of individuals, their extended webs of human contacts, and the materials that they moved along with them, this book pieces together what it took to bring opera to New Orleans and the ways in which the city’s operatic life shaped contemporary perceptions of global interconnection. The early chapters explore the process of bringing opera to the stage, taking a detailed look at the management of New Orleans’s Francophone theater, the Théâtre d’Orléans, as well as the performers who came to the city and the reception they received. But opera’s significance was not confined to the theater, and later chapters of the book examine how opera permeated everyday life in New Orleans, through popular sheet music, novels, magazines and visual culture, and dancing in its many ballrooms. Just as New Orleans helped to create transatlantic opera, opera in turn helped to create the city of New Orleans.

336 pages | 14 halftones, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Opera Lab: Explorations in History, Technology, and Performance

History: American History

Music: General Music


“This book is a significant contribution to our understanding of opera and New Orleans during the antebellum period. Bentley, who focuses on both the Théâtre d’Orléans and the evolving culture in the city, delves deeply into a wealth of untapped primary materials but also situates her study solidly in secondary scholarship from a variety of disciplines. Eminently readable, this microhistory is a tour de force effort.”

Katherine Preston, College of William & Mary

“Bentley’s book presents a milestone in transnational opera studies, placing New Orleans firmly on the global operatic map. Impressively erudite, rooted in the sophisticated analysis of huge amounts of complex archives, and eloquently written, New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819–1859 profoundly challenges ways of thinking about transatlantic music history. With opera in the Mississippi metropolis dating back to the late eighteenth century, New Orleans became an influential hub for introducing opera to cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston, while also staying in close contact with the Old World.”

Axel Körner, University of Leipzig and University College London

“Written by a consummate historical storyteller, Bentley’s book offers an object lesson in how to research the operatic culture of a single city while also mapping the trajectories of its cultural traffic and capturing its sense of permanent flux. Bentley’s focus is on the connecting webs that sustained French stage music in New Orleans during the early postcolonial period and on the ways opera, sometimes mediated via literature and dance music, reached disparate and often multiracial audiences. This sensitive and multivalent history sets a new standard in transnational musicology.”

Katharine Ellis, University of Cambridge

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
   “Un théâtre est une machine difficile à mouvoir”: Developing a Transatlantic Cultural Institution
   Transatlantic Production and Transatlantic Reception: Positioning New Orleans through Grand Opéra
   Audiences and Publics: Opera in the Sociocultural Fabric of New Orleans
   Opera’s Material Culture and the Creation of Global Intimacy
   Reimagining New Orleans in Operatic Travelogues
   From the Transatlantic to the Global
Author’s Note

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