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'Emperor Norton' Opera to Premiere at UC Davis

May 27, 1999

The true story of Joshua Norton -- a bankrupt British rice merchant who became a street person and self-proclaimed "Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico" -- will be told in a new opera to be performed at UC Davis in early June.

Composed by music professor emeritus Jerome Rosen, "Emperor Norton of the U.S.A." will feature both professional opera singers and UC Davis students during its premiere performances.

The opera recounts how Norton printed his own money, issued proclamations and supported Chinese laborers and the spirit of Mexico during the late 1800s in San Francisco.

"Norton's vision of universal brotherhood was genuine. His compassionate view of the individual and the need for racial harmony seem all the more apt today," says James Schevill, a Bay Area poet and playwright who wrote the libretto for the opera.

This new opera is something of an experiment for those performing, Rosen says. "The singers usually know something about a production. But this is the first time for them to do this work from rock bottom. There's no record to go to. It's exciting, challenging and risky."

On opening night, June 3, highlights will include a free performance by Chinese dragon dancers outside Main Theatre near the Arneson Egghead sculptures.

"Emperor Norton" is the second Rosen opera to have a UC Davis premiere -- the first time was 20 years ago when his "Calisto and Melibea" was performed on campus.

The opera will be performed June 3, 5, 6, 9 and 11 in Main Theatre. For ticket information, contact the theatre and dance department at (530) 752-0888.

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