“Pumps and the Opera” — New Orleans was an operatic capital, with people of color often at the fore

In the nineteenth century, New Orleans was a flourishing opera mecca. These glory days would be beyond distant memory—except for the labors of scholars, singers, and archivists who bring the work of this period to life. For years Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha was thought to be the first opera score by an African American composer. Today we know that honor belongs to Edmond Dédé and his 1887 work Morgiane ou Le Sultan d’Ispahan. Its manuscript was lost for most of the twentieth century and was only found at Harvard University’s Houghton Library in 2008. The opera in four acts was never produced in Dédé’s lifetime: not in Paris where he’d excelled at the Paris Conservatory for Advanced Musical Study, or in Bordeaux where he led the Théâtre l’Alcazar orchestra, nor in New Orleans where he was born in 1827, falling into that historical demographic of “free-born Creole.”

Since the manuscript’s recovery, Opera Créole, a local opera company formed in 2011 to perform lost or rarely performed works by nineteenth-century New Orleanian composers of color, has set their sights on presenting the opera’s world premiere. A production is planned (funding permitting) in partnership with Opera Lafayette, to be performed in New Orleans, Washington, DC, and New York City in 2025–2026.

For mezzo-soprano Givonna Joseph, Opera Créole’s artistic director, bringing Dédé’s work out from the shadows is not solely a mission-driven matter of restorative justice for neglected Black composers. Long before Opera Créole was even a twinkle in her eye, she loved singing Dédé’s “Mon Pauvre Coeur” for the arresting beauty of his song that speaks so achingly to unrequited passion.

Read the article at 64 Parishes