There’s a lot to celebrate this year. 2018 marks not only the 300th anniversary of New Orleans, but also 222 years of opera in New Orleans, the 75th anniversary of the New Orleans Opera Association, and 150 years of Louisiana’s own Tabasco Sauce. And when Tabasco meets opera, you get Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera.
The operetta Tabasco was originally performed in Boston in 1894, likely as a source of marketing for the newly created (in 1868) Tabasco sauce. It had a fairly successful run, being performed in at least 50 cities around the country, before the show and any sign of it (except for its namesake condiment) disappeared completely for 124 years.
But now, thanks to Paul Mauffray, conductor of the New Orleans Opera, in close collaboration with the McIlhenny Company (the folks behind the hot sauce), Tabasco has been rediscovered, reconstructed, and revamped, and is being performed this week at Le Petit Theatre.
Set in Morocco in 1894, Tabasco tells the story of the Pasha, a harem leader with a propensity for extra spicy food. Known as the Furor of Fire, the Prince of Picante, the Captain of Capsaicins, the Emperor of Temperature (etc.), he regularly fires or even kills those chefs who work for him but can’t cook caliente enough to please him.
Fatima has just arrived in Tangier to be delivered to the Pasha as the newest member of his harem. This causes great jealousy and evil scheming on the part of Hasbeena, who formerly had the honor of being the Pasha’s favorite harem girl—his precious “Petunia.” But Fatima has also captured the heart of the noble Captain Marco, who wants to rescue her from the Pasha and have her all to himself. Meanwhile, Marco’s sister Lola has fallen for an Irishman, who must pose as a French chef and attempt to please the Pasha with supremely spicy suppers, or he will lose his life in the process. All sorts of shenanigans ensue. It seems that only a little Tabasco Sauce will be able to save the day.
Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera is fun, funny, and highly entertaining, with just the right amount of silliness and debauchery. The cast impressed me with everything from their operatic voices and acting skills to their ability to time a joke and dance the jig. Not to mention, the orchestra, set and costume designers, and choreographers all deserve a shout-out as well.
If you need a little spice in your life, come see this show. As the chorus sings, “If life is bland, you can make it grand. Just add a drop of Tabasco.” And now, you can have your Tabasco on stage, as well as on your plate.
Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera is playing January 25 and 26 at 8:00 p.m.; January 27 and 28 at 2:30 p.m. Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., neworleansopera.org/tabasco.
Opera-lovers and hot sauce connoisseurs alike came out Wednesday night to celebrate Tabasco with an exclusive preview of the show, followed by an opening night celebration with cocktails, confetti, and Tabasco-inspired cuisine. There was even a birthday cake to wish our favorite spicy sauce a happy 150th.