By Melissa Mitchell
A newly restored version of one of John Philip Sousa's most famous comic operas will receive its premiere performance Sept. 27 at the UI.
"El Capitan," first staged in 1896, is one of 15 operas composed by Sousa, better known to American music enthusiasts as "The March King." Only seven operettas with lyrics by Charles Klein were published by the pair, considered at the time to be the American equivalent of Gilbert & Sullivan, according to UI music professor Ian Hobson.
Hobson said "El Capitan," an elaborate production featuring marches and waltzes "wedded to a very clever though ridiculous plot," was "by far and away the most popular" of the operettas by Sousa and Klein. "It was a tremendous success in the 1890s."
The 1990s version promises to be a spectacular production as well, involving no less than three large UI musical ensembles and eight guest singers. Joining forces will be Sinfonia da Camera, an orchestra conducted by Hobson; the UI Band, directed by James F. Keene; the UI Chorale, directed by Fred Stoltzfus; and guest artists Lucille Beer, Gerald Dolter, Darryl Edwards, Donald Hartmann, Sherri Karam, Mary Ann McCormick, Harold Gray Meers and Douglas Webster. The minimally staged production is cast and directed by UI music professor Nicholas Di Virgilio.
The restoration of "El Capitan" was undertaken by Jerrold Fisher and William Martin of New York's Lyric Theater International. This is the third such restoration of a Sousa-Klein operetta for Fisher and Martin, who are considered to be the world's foremost authorities on Sousa's theatrical works. As part of their research, they consulted primary source material from the Sousa Archives for Band Research, which is housed at the UI
The idea for restoring "El Captain," however can be traced back to Hobson.
"Knowing that the university has such a rich tradition with the Sousa archives, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to put together a performance here," he said. "About six or seven years ago, I wrote to John Philip Sousa III, the composer's grandson, asking him to grant me permission to get the microfilm of the full score of 'El Capitan,' which he had in his possession. Later, I came across Lyric Theater, which was coming out with Sousa operas bit by bit. I contacted them just to let them know what I was planning and they decided to put their own plans on hold," shifting their attention instead to "El Capitan."
Hobson said the restored version "is true to the score," and will be enhanced by the inclusion of instruments that would have been used in Sousa's day. The libretto, which had been lost, has been recreated from the story line, reviews and stage directions.
"It will be as close to what it had been as possible," he said.