By Steven Nalley
The Tupelo Symphony Orchestra and the Mississippi State University Chorus will join forces for a performance of John Philip Sousa’s “El Capitan” on March 26 at 4 p.m. at the Tupelo Civic Auditorium.
Representatives from TSO had nothing but praise for the MSU chorus, which has collaborated with TSO on a number of projects for more than a decade.
Conductor and music director Steven Byess said that when he searched Mississippi and surrounding states for choruses to collaborate with TSO, MSU stood out as one of the best he had ever worked with - and Byess has worked with ensembles around the country and the world. He said the MSU Chorus is so focused and professional that he wishes all his collaborations could be so rewarding.
“We’ve done a great variety of pieces with the chorus, and everything we’ve done together has just been stellar,” Byess said. “The MSU Choruses, in the great variety of music that we have done together, have performed extraordinarily well. In every collaboration, the MSU Chorus has been the very model of preparedness and professionalism. I’m enormously enthusiastic about working with the MSU chorus.”
Margaret Murphey, president and executive director of TSO, said she couldn’t say enough good things about the MSU chorus. She was in the symphony’s own chorus when MSU and TSO collaborated on “Carmina Burana,” and the students she worked with impressed her, she said.
“I can’t say enough good things about how well-trained they were,” Murphey said. “They knew the music, and they followed the lead of the older, more mature people.”
She also said she was looking forward to seeing “El Capitan” performed on the Tupelo stage. While the operetta will not be performed in costume, she said this performance could pave the way for TSO to stage more musical theatre, including modern musicals.
“For a number of years, we’ve been searching for something we could do like this in concert,” Murphey said. “We’ve thought about things like ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and things that would be local theatre, that we could do without costumes. When Mr. Byess came up with this operetta, we knew it was the right thing. We are doing something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and we’re excited that the MSU Chorus is just as excited as we are.”
“El Capitan” was one of America’s first operettas, written by a composer better known for his patriotic marches, John Philip Sousa. In it, Don Medigua, viceroy of Peru, impersonates a Spanish mercenary in service to both Peruvian rebels and a Spanish military struggling to maintain control of the country.
Byess said “El Capitan,” written in 1896, was the prototype for the musicals Murphey is interested in having TSO perform.
“Starting with Sousa and going into american broadway musicals today, this is where it essentially started,” Byess said. “To do it in concert is helpful in some ways, because we can do it without the elaborate costumes, and at the same time, we can focus on the music.”