Tabasco, the burlesque opera from 1894, rediscovered and performed anew
January 30, 2018 5:55 PM   Subscribe

26 years after Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland-born former banker who moved to Louisiana first made and marketed Tabasco sauce, the condiment was so well known in the United States that a group of military cadets in Boston commissioned the production of the Burlesque Opera of Tabasco as a way to raise money to help build a new armory in 1894. But due to alleged conflicts between composer George W. Chadwickand producer Thomas Q. Seabrooke, after the opera’s initial run, it faded into obscurity and was largely forgetten about—until now. The comic operetta singing the praises of a famous Louisiana pepper sauce performed in full to the public for the first time in 124 years, in New Orleans.

The first production of “The Burlesque Opera of Tabasco” was praised for, among other things, the shaven legs of the cadets playing harem girls.
In 1894, the First Corps of Cadets of Massachusetts, a volunteer militia composed largely of well-to-do young men, was raising money for a new armory. In a scenario that could have been lifted from a comic opera, these young cadets built funds by… staging comic operas. For one production, the Corps contacted George W. Chadwick, a composer, conductor, and concert organist to write a show. The Burlesque Opera of Tabasco, or Burlesque Opera Tabasco, a tale of love, violence, and pepper sauce in a distant land, was a smash hit, so popular in its original production full of shaven army cadets in drag as harem girls that it was picked up for a Broadway run. After that, it embarked on a limited tour, playing in thirty-five cities before falling into obscurity....

The details of the plot vary among productions, but the bones remain the same. A man finds himself shipwrecked on a foreign shore, in the part of the Middle East between the Levant and the Western imagination. He pretends to be a fine chef for a place in the pasha’s court, only to find that his predecessors have been axed (literally) for failing to provide dishes spicy enough for the potentate’s palate. Hijinks, among other things, ensue, and the day is ultimately saved by the same sauce that has propped up many an ailing jambalaya or lackluster étouffée: Tabasco.
Before this recent, sold out limited run came and went, it was re-discovered and performed ... in Tennessee. Three years ago, Paul Mauffray revive excerpts for a return to Chattanooga, where it was was originally performed in during a nationwide tour in 1894. He also previewed "Francois' Lament" (the Irish Lament), playing the piano while Taylor Miller sang, back in 2014. The following year, Mauffray conducted opera, performed bythe Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra in the the Czech Republic (YouTube playlist, with videos uploaded by Mauffray himself).

Now, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of New Orleans, the 150th anniversary of the McIlhenny Company, and the 75th anniversary of the New Orleans Opera, Mauffray presented the result of his research into the nearly lost opera.
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
*cancels planned pilot for The Sriracha Show*
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:51 PM on January 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

Ha! Apparently the were trying to fund the building that is now the castle across from the Park Plaza hotel (it's been Park Plaza function space in the past, but I'm not sure what its current status is)
posted by rmd1023 at 7:07 PM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by jim in austin at 7:10 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

No relation.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:16 PM on January 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

My best pal from college and ex-band-mate Matt is the prop master for this and has been posting amusing and compelling imagery since they got to tech and install a couple weeks ago. tabascodagama, you might like it!
posted by mwhybark at 7:55 PM on January 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you ever have the chance to visit Avery Island, where the McIlhenny family still makes Tabasco, do. It's quite lovely, containing one of the earliest bird sanctuaries in the US.
posted by tavella at 8:12 PM on January 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was seriously considering a trip to New Orleans just to see this, but it didn't work out. (OK, more like scheduling an already-likely trip so that I could see this, too, but still.) Hope I get a chance someday.

Comic opera is awesome. Opera usually makes me cry, but it's especially fun when I'm laughing so hard I cry.
posted by asperity at 9:33 PM on January 30, 2018

Apparently the were trying to fund the building that is now the castle across from the Park Plaza hotel (it's been Park Plaza function space in the past, but I'm not sure what its current status is)

Also at one time the UMass/Boston Library, before that school moved to its new pile of bricks at Columbia Point in 1974. That the new campus has serious structural problems, while the Park Square Castle stands solid, says something about declining construction standards.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:02 AM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh my gosh, I need a score of this.

And indeed, here is one on IMSLP! (The one I downloaded didn't have dialogue, but one of the others might.)

It's... kind of crap, but stageable crap, not irredeemably terrible. The racist "Plantation Ballad" (4d in Act 2) is an obvious cut. And like many comic operas, it doesn't seem to end satisfactorily. But if you had a bunch of costumes left over from Die Entführung aus dem Serail or L'Italiana in Algieri, you could stage this as a small-stage novelty, and you'd probably get an audience.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:46 AM on January 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

My impression is that is exactly what they did! Matt's the prop master for the New Orleans Opera, and the posts he was sharing began with him chronicling the relocation of costumes and sets from the Opera's main locale to the smaller venue where this show was held. Ocassionally he would comment on what prior opera a given prop was originally made for. I'm guessing all the giant Tabasco bottles were made specifically for this event, though.
posted by mwhybark at 11:07 AM on January 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

The true challenge is figuring out what future operas they can use the giant Tabasco bottles in.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:12 AM on January 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

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