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New Orleans Revives 1894 Tabasco Opera

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. Tonight, the New Orleans Opera celebrates its 75th anniversary with a performance that can best be described as spicy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEW ORLEANS OPERA: (Singing) Tabasco, Tabasco, the sauce that we all do love so.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. If you didn't catch those words there, yes, they were singing - Tabasco, Tabasco the sauce that we all do love so.

INSKEEP: There's a rhyme.

PAUL MAUFFRAY: The title of the show tonight is "Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera."

INSKEEP: That's the opera's conductor, Paul Mauffray, who says he discovered the "Tabasco" score while searching for historical music from his hometown.

MAUFFRAY: I knew that New Orleans had the oldest opera history in America, so I was curious to see what was part of our musical heritage.

GREENE: His hunt led him to an 1894 production of the "Tabasco" opera.

MAUFFRAY: I didn't even realize that Tabasco sauce had been around that long.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) For I'm a chef of high degree with the biggest sort of salary.

MAUFFRAY: It's about an Irishman who gets lost at sea and ends up in Tangier, Morocco, and is forced to become a chef for a Pasha who loves spicy food. And he's got to come up with a spicy meal. And sure enough, the Tabasco sauce saves the day

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) For my victuals I like hot, and my prattle's polyglot.

INSKEEP: The "Tabasco" opera debuted in Boston in 1894, and from there, it went to Broadway. But after a legal battle over earnings, its composer locked the score in a box, where it stayed for decades until Mauffray discovered it in an archive six years ago.

MAUFFRAY: I'm sure that if "Tabasco" had not had this horrible fate of being locked away in a crate and lost, it would have become the cornerstone of our American opera history.

GREENE: The show is making its fiery return in New Orleans this weekend for five - yes, I did that - for five sold-out performances.

INSKEEP: Hot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.