Patriotic Niece of Famous Creole Restaurant Owner Makes Triumphant Return to New Orleans For Debut at the French Opera House
Nina May Alciatore was born on September 7, 1886 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Alexander Ange Alciatore and Colvina Clos. Her grandfather was Antoine Alciatore, the creator of the famous Antoine’s Restaurant built in 1840 right here in New Orleans located at 713 Saint Louis Street. The restaurant consists of French-Creole cuisine. One classic dish at Antoine’s is called Oysters Rockefeller which was created by Jules Alciatore, Antoine’s son and Nina May’s uncle. Antoine’s grandson, Roy Alciatore, helped the restaurant’s reputation by making it known as one of the city’s most fashionable places to eat. This restaurant is still around to this day and is currently under the ownership of fifth generation relatives of the original founder.
Nina May was married to a Belgian man named Auguste Fernand de Potter, and moved to Europe with him before the First World War. May had made a name for herself in Europe and had gained many European fans by performing in France during WWI. She was honored with the Croix de Guerre for her work, which received praise in many Paris newspapers. She had also performed over 350 times for soldiers at “Theatre aux Armees,” which translated to English, means “The Army Theater.”
A notice appeared on November 17, 1919 that Miss Nina May was to make her New Orleans debut as an opera singer. The opera she debuted with was called “Manon” and she performed under the stage name “Miss May.” This performance occurred at the famous French Opera House in New Orleans. There was a lot of anticipation for her debut, and The French Opera House was packed with many New Orleanians. She did great in her debut; she was gifted with a beautiful voice and was able to finally share it with others.
“Manon” is a 5-act opera which was written by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille in 1882. It tells the story of a young girl and how she goes through the feelings of love, greed, and betrayal. A girl named Manon falls in love with a man named Des Grieux. They decided to get married and run away to Paris. After being married for some time, Manon is convinced to leave Des Grieux for riches and luxury with De Brétigny in return. Des Grieux decided to enter the priesthood when he learned about what Manon did. When Manon finds out, she rushes to Des Grieux and they reunite until they gamble away all of their riches and are arrested for cheating. Des Grieux is released while Manon was sentenced to prison and deportation to New Orleans, where they meet their end. It was inspired by the novel Manon Lescaut, which in the early 18th Century imagined New Orleans as a place of licentiousness and sin.
The French Opera House was built and opened to the public on December 1, 1859, however, it was sadly burned down on December 4, 1919, just weeks after Miss May’s performance. The fire was said to have started at the front of the building. While the French Opera House was still up and running, it was located relatively near Antoine’s restaurant. It was common for people to go dine at Antoine’s right after watching a performance at the French Opera House. The dining experience that Antoine’s offered was very high-class and was made to be a very formal event.
The burning down of the French Opera House right after Miss May’s opera performance was a symbolic representation of an era ending and a new one starting. It shows how quickly things can change and how a turn of events can occur. Miss May performing weeks before the French Opera House burned down was a sort of closing the curtain performance; it was closing the curtain of the Belle Époque era and opening the curtain of the Jazz Age.
“Alexandre ‘Ange’ Alciatore (1859-1925) – Find A…” n.d. Find A Grave. Accessed October 18, 2019. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/140190220/alexandre-alciatore.
“Antoine’s Restaurant: New Orleans French Quarter Restaurant Since 1840.” n.d. Antoines Restaurant. Accessed November 10, 2019. https://antoines.com/.
“Artists Of Opera Bring New Life To Vieux Carre Singers Express Pleasure at Being In.” Times-Picayune. October 26, 1919. Access World News – Historical and Current.
“Debut Of Operetta Is Most Auspicious Les Cloches de Corneville Delights Audience on Sunday Night.” Times-Picayune. November 17, 1919. Access World News – Historical and Current.
“Manon (Opera) Plot & Characters.” n.d. StageAgent. Accessed November 12, 2019. https://stageagent.com/shows/opera/1505/manon.
“Miss Nina May to Make Debut as Opera Singer.” Times-Picayune. November 17, 1919. Access World News – Historical and Current.
“Our Opera Misfortune.” Times-Picayune. December 5, 1919. Access World News – Historical and Current.
Scott, Mike. 2018. “Meet the Man ‘Who Gave Antoine’s Its Reputation’.” NOLA.com. July 11, 2018. https://www.nola.com/300/article_22ed0fe9-ca88-5107-9175-1b3f0a5b736e.html.
Undated newspaper clippings on Alciatore & Guardalabene family tree on Ancestry.com
Undated newspaper clippings under archive