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NEW ORLEANS — We all know that New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, but did you know that opera in North America got its start here as well?

The first documented opera in America took place in New Orleans in 1796. The Crescent City would present Europe’s finest acts in front of a diverse Creole audience.

“Somebody like Jelly Roll Morton attended the opera,” said New Orleans Opera Association Chorusmaster Carol Rausch. “His family kind of looked down on jazz and though the only way to be a musician was to be a classical musician.”

In 1859, the doors opened to the French Opera House, the premiere theater at its time, until a blaze brought it down in 1919.

The new company — the New Orleans Opera Association — came to fruition in the 1940s. The group is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Opera in New Orleans first survived a fire, but then came the flood. After Hurricane Katrina, “people were starved for music,” New Orleans Opera Association Past President Meredith Hathorn said.


“They needed something to make them feel good,” she said.

Today, the opera here at home continues to evolve with the changing times. Last season, the association addressed the transgender issue with “As One,” and then helped with “Champion,” a jazz opera by Terence Blanchard.

“It’s a balancing act, because we are trying to expand and stay relevant as far as an issue,” Hathorn