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Harold FRASER-SIMSON (1872-1944)
The Maid of the Mountains (1916)
Teresa – Janis Kelly (soprano)
Beppo – Christopher Maltman (baritone)
Baldassare – Michael George (bass)
Tonio – Richard Suart (baritone)
Vittoria – Sally Burgess (mezzo-soprano)
General Malona – Donald Maxwell (bass)
New London Light Opera Chorus
New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London, March 2000
HELIOS CDH55246 [79:48]

 

The Maid of the Mountains was one of the two big hits on the London stage during the First World War, one that ran for 1,352 consecutive performances. It’s not as well remembered as Chu Chin Chow but it brought almost as much cheer and enjoyment. Its composer was from a moneyed family, London-born but Highlands-leaning. Harold Fraser Simson - the hyphen was a later affectation - began life in the City of London but his musical aspirations, strong though cautiously delayed, finally bore fruit in 1911 when a comic opera called Bonita hit the London boards.

Five years later he worked with lyricist Harry Graham on The Maid of the Mountains, a book by Frederick Lonsdale. Its stage self comprised a comic mêlée of Governors, Generals, brigands, citizens and assorted dancing girls, just the thing for 1916. Musically speaking Fraser-Simson owed a great debt to G&S, to Lehár in the waltz scene and in the more esoteric moments to the Coleridge-Taylor of Hiawatha and the lighter orchestral music. There were some interpolations during the early stages. James W Tate, brother of Maggie Teyte, supplied three impressive numbers, My life is love, Love will find a way (maybe the best known song of all) and A paradise for two. Tate happened to be the stepfather of one of the original stars of the production, José Collins. For those interested in esoterica one of Tate’s writing partners was Archibald Thomas Pechey who wrote under the august name "Valentine" and was the father of TV cook Fanny Craddock. Such are the ways of theatrical dynasties.

The musical play has its peculiarities in that Baldassare, its leading man, Michael George, sonorous and packed with personality as ever, recites rather than sings. Its original performer was a leading figure of the time, and a suitable candidate for the non-singing actor, Arthur Wontner. Nevertheless there’s plenty of verve and variety to see one through, especially when the brigand Beppo holds the stage. This was a role taken in the first production by Thorpe Bates, a singer of wide repute and one who made many 78 discs. The maid is the Collins role. These parts are here taken by Christopher Maltman and Janis Kelly. They’re both full of personality and command, and Kelly is fearless when called upon.

Richard Corp leads an evocative performance using full orchestrations. His direction is assured and knowing. There are some opportunities for the solo violin in the Nocturne and for the principal cello in Dividing the Spoil in Act I. Strings are warm and sympathetic. Maltman is especially fine in this number with its G&S resonance. Though the three acts seem well proportioned the finale to Act I is very brief and perhaps a little unsatisfactory – it lasts barely a minute.

Donald Maxwell does a splendid turn as the General and the smaller parts are all excellently cast and well taken. There are no weak links, no signs of slumming or archness. Love will find a way does have a Lehár lilt and A Bachelor Gay has a rude music-hall vitality that momentarily takes us to from a musical play to the sing-along of the halls – infectious, actually.

The notes, from which I’ve cribbed much of the background, are excellent and amusing. The booklet has full texts. You’ll have encountered this first on Hyperion CDA67190, released back in 2000, but at its reduced Helios price bracket this is a veritably enjoyable slice of British musical theatre.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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