September 22, 2014
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'William Sprague' opera debuts September 30
Cast members (from left): Deirdre Donovan, Kate Norigian, Rene de la Garza, Billy Ray Poli and Mark Conley performing selections from the opera.

The premier of a new opera by composer Geoffrey Gibbs, offering a juicy slice of scandal-filled Rhode Island history, will be the second offering in the 2012-13 University Artist Series at the University of Rhode Island. The three-act opera “William Sprague and His Women” will be presented in full on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 4 p.m. in the URI Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston. Admission is $10 general public, $5 students, with tickets available at the box office starting 45 minutes before the concert on a first-come basis.

Based on the play by Richard Vangermeersch, the opera focuses on Civil War hero and RI “Boy Governor” William Sprague and generations of colorful women connected to him, covering a period of about 100 years. Gibbs mixes songs and marches from the 19th century with his original work, which will be performed by soloists, chorus, and Civil War reenacters, accompanied by chamber ensemble. Donations for restoring the State House portrait of William Sprague will be welcomed.

In addition to Gibbs and Vangermeersch, who are both URI Emeritus Professors, other URI music faculty artists involved in the production include Rene de la Garza (singing the role of William Sprague), Mark Conley (singing the newscaster and Willie Sprague, and preparing the opera chorus), and Brian Cardany, who will conduct.

Additional cast members include noted local singers, all with multiple roles: Kate Norigian, Deidre Donovan, Norma Caiazza, and Leah Kenney. Members of Co. B 2nd R.I. Regiment will provide Civil War reenactments.

William Sprague was Rhode Island's Civil War hero and governor (second one by that name), later Senator, and one of the founders of the Town of Narragansett. His estate, Canonchet Farm, is now the site of the South County Museum. The Spragues intrigued Vangermeersch who had already written a book on Kate Chase’s father, among other historical research and writings. With a background in accounting, he was drawn to William Sprague as a financial wizard who put together one of the greatest textile manufacturing empires of the 19th century only to have it collapse in the financial crash of 1873.

A preview of selections from the opera performed in July focused primarily on the story of Sprague and his first wife Kate Chase, a celebrated beauty of her time. The full opera covers many more Sprague women, including his second wife, Inez, who was a failed opera diva; his mistress Mary Eliza, who wrote a fictionalized tell-all book about him; his daughter Ethel, the only woman to receive the Rough Rider Medal from President Theodore Roosevelt, and later generations who moved back and forth from Narragansett to the cultural centers of Europe.

The URI Concert Hall is handicap-accessible, and parking is available in the lot behind the Fine Arts Center, off Bills Road. Ticket proceeds support music scholarships at URI.

For more information, contact the URI Department of Music, 874-2431, or check the website www.uri.edu/music.


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