Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Sidney JONES The Geisha     Lilian Watson; Christopher Maltman; SarahWalker; Richard Suart; the New London Light Opera Chorus and Orchestraconducted by Ronald Corp    HYPERION CDA67006 [77:12]



Through the years, a whole series of stage plays, operas and Hollywood films have given us a somewhat clichéd view of Japan and its culture - the films include: Sayonara and The Teahouse of the August Moon to name buttwo. The Geisha was one of the earliest such models. It dates from 1896 and is very much in the mould of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. It was written by Sidney Jones a now very much forgotten composer whose musical style has long since been eclipsed; yet, in the period between the early 1890s and the First World War, his stage productions enjoyed considerable success. They included: A Gaiety Girl, An Artist's Model, and A Greek Slave (which was a precursor of Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). But The Geisha - A Story of The Teahouse was his greatest success; it ran at Daly's Theatre, London for an unprecedented 760 performances and in its initial production it starred Marie Tempest as Mimosa and Letty Lind as Molly.

The Geisha, described as a Japanese musical play, is bright and breezy. Its musical style of Victorian/turn-of- the-century lyricism, would be swept into redundancy by the music of 1920s Broadway. From this period, only the music of Gilbert and Sullivan has survived with much success. Yet once attuned to its style, listeners will find much to amuse and beguile them.

The story line of  The Geisha is one of romantic and comic complications. The Tea House of the Thousand Joys (run by devious Chinaman, Wun-Hi) - and, especially, its Geishas are a magnet to visiting English naval officers led, on this occasion, by Lieutenant Reginald Fairfax who flirts with Mimosa the Chief Geisha. Fairfax's fiancée, Molly, is not amused and resolves to teach him a lesson by dressing as a Geisha and surprising him.

In the meantime the Tea House is threatened with closure by womanising Marquis Imari, chief of police and Governor of the Province who is determined to have Mimosa to the chagrin of her admirer Katana Captain of the Governor's Guard. Many misunderstandings occur before all the lovers are united happily.

The opening chorus, "Happy Japan" is sunny and jolly and reminds one of the style of the Elgar part songs as well as of Gilbert and Sullivan. Clearly many of The Geisha's lyrics would be considered politically incorrect today such as those in the early patter song, "The dear little Jappy-Jap-Jappy" but they are conveyed with such innocent and irresistible charm that such considerations can be dismissed. Both Lillian Watson as Mimosa and, particularly, Sarah Watson as Molly are excellent they enter into the spirit of the work with enthusiastic commitment and without any trace of condescension. Mimosa's first big number, reminiscent of the style of Edward German, the charming "The Amorous Goldfish" has a nice catchy refrain. Molly, in her first number, shared with Christopher Maltman as Fairfax, remembers her toys in The Toy and amusingly derides Fairfax for toying with the Geishas. Sarah Watson immediately shows her considerable comic and mimicking talents which she later demonstrates to the full when she mimics a kill-joy parrot determined to destroy the love life of two canaries in the delightful Act II comic song "The Interfering Parrot". Molly is also given one of the more risqué songs, "Chon Kina" which she delivers in her Geisha disguise. Lyrics like - "And if my art entices, Then at extra prices, I can dance for you in quite another way" may seem surprising but then they were the Naughty Nineties! Richard Suart is in great form as Wun-Hi singing such tongue-twisting numbers as "Ching-a-ring-a-ree". Maltman and the chorus have their turn to shine in "Jack's the Boy" a sly and salty song with an engaging refrain about a roguish sailor with a girl in every port. The ensemble pieces are very clever and amusing too. Take the concerted piece, "We're going to call on the Marquis", when the company plan to have their revenge on the overbearing Police Chief It has all the hallmarks of the best of G&S and German.

Ronald Corp can add this sparkling album to the growing number of first class light music albums he has recorded for Hyperion


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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