NORTH BETHESDA, Md. --
Following his service as a musician’s apprentice in the Marine Band, John Philip Sousa remained in Washington for a time, conducting and playing the violin. In 1876, he toured with several traveling theater orchestras and moved to Philadelphia. There he worked as a composer, arranger, and proofreader for publishing houses.
Sousa was fascinated by the operetta form and toured with a company producing the American musical comedy Our Flirtation, for which he wrote the incidental music and the march. While on tour in St. Louis, he received a telegram offering him the leadership of the Marine Band in Washington. He accepted and reported for duty on Oct. 1, 1880. Some scholars believe that if he hadn’t returned to the Marine Band, Sousa would have chosen a career in musical theater.
“John Philip Sousa will forever be remembered as ‘The March King,’ but as much as Sousa enjoyed that brand of notoriety, his favorite genre to compose in was the operetta,” explains Marine Band Director Colonel Jason K. Fettig. “He composed several operettas during his long career and actually took many of his most popular marches from the scores to these entertaining stage works.”
Sousa completed twelve operettas, five of which will be featured on the Marine Band’s Sousa Season Opener at 2 p.m, Jan. 12, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts: The Charlatan, Chris and the Wonderful Lamp, The American Maid, The Bride Elect, and El Capitan.
His must successful operetta was El Capitan, which played continuously in the United States and Canada for four years, as well as internationally. The lead was performed by the famous comedian De Wolf Hopper, and Sousa prolonged the operetta’s popularity by programming selections on Sousa Band concerts. “El Capitan” march still remains one of Sousa’s most popular compositions.
In his next venture, Sousa wrote the libretto for The Bride Elect, which critics believed was a mistake. Charles Klein, who was the librettist for the popular El Capitan was unavailable and the show had only mild success. The march long outlived the operetta and Sousa programmed many of the songs for the sopranos who toured with the Sousa Band.
Hopper and Klein again teamed up with Sousa in 1898 to produce The Charlatan. According to Sousa, “I had made no arrangements to spend my usual season at Manhattan Beach that summer, since I had expected to go to Europe, so I leased a farm up in Suffern, N.Y., and there I wrote the lyrics and music of The Charlatan. It was produced in Montreal on August 29, 1898, by the DeWolf Hopper Company. It did not make the prodigious hit that El Capitan had, but musically it was considered superior.”
In addition to selections from The Charlatan, the Sousa Season Opener will also feature works from The American Maid and Chris and the Wonderful Lamp. While these operettas did not have the staying power of the previous shows, critics praised Sousa for comedic incidents and lively music.
To read a synopsis of each operetta on the program, click here.
The concert is free and no tickets are required. George Mason University’s Center for the Arts is located at 4373 Mason Pond Drive in Fairfax, Va. Free parking is available in Lot K. A Marine String Quartet will offer pre-concert music in the lobby beginning at 1:15 p.m.
Directions and Parking