Sunday, August 23, 2009

Orphans

For a while, some educational publishers chose to release the script and the vocal score separately, even though you bought them as a set. While I'm sure that was a great idea in 1930, it's left some major holes today, mostly because the scores had longer lives as antiques than the libretti. As such, I have a few that are songs only, leaving the actual storylines a mystery.

It's not surprising, actually. Most operetta librettists, even the professionals, didnt intend for their work to last beyond the final performance. They knew that all they were providing was a verbal clothesline for the music to hang onto. In some cases, what materials we do have conflict with the published scores, which themselves have been revised and changed, mostly just to retain copyright control. For example, THE QUAKER GIRL (1910), by Lionel Monckton, James Tanner, Adrian Ross, and Percy Greenback, saw the removal of a single song from Act Two, which seemed sufficient for Chappell to put in a new copyright claim in 1956, which allows them to retain control of this rarely performed work until apparently... oh... sometime in the 23rd century. Interestingly, the score available at the Internet Archive is earlier than the '56 version and has all of Monckton's work. So would Chappell get all bent out of shape if one performed the 1910 version, even though some of the music is now contained in the "re-edited" score? Probably so.

But the script? We're actually lucky in this case, because the script is available pretty readily online, both the original 1910 version and a pared-down one prepared in the 1980s. Still, there are areas where both conflict with the published vocal scores... granted, in small ways, but enough to be a bit of a headache. Traditionally, the published scores had "extra songs", added to the end, numbers that were cut during rehearsal — or even after opening night — or written when a new performer came into the production. The fact that the available scripts werent likewise updated is cast aside, because the librettists never seriously thought their work merited preserving. These were cast-off plots, built to order around a series of songs... and it was the songs the audience wanted, not the story.

Still, at least in this case, the script exists, and with a little rewrite, it can be adapted to fit the existing score, so I suppose we should be happy to have at least that much. Not so for some of the works in my collection. So we'll muddle through, as best we can, with what materials as they do exist.

EVERYSOUL (1912), by the Reverend J.F.X. O'Conor, is a religious pageant, not to be confused with the morality play of (almost) the same name. In this one, Everysoul is seeking the Land of the Sunrise Sea, where he will find happiness. He's guided by an Angel, who shows him how to distinguish between the voices of nature and the Evil Spirits that sow only confusion. The powers of Darkness are defeated by the Angel and her Good Spirits, and Everysoul finds he can communicate with the flowers and birds. Sorrow comes to Everysoul, but she's pushed back by Gladness and Hope. A few more metaphorical scenes later, and he arrives at the Golden Shore, where the gleaming waves "light up the vision of glory".

I have no idea what the libretto must have been like, but it appears that, were it staged, this would have been a major production, with no less than nine choruses required on top of a score of named characters. O'Conor is very specific that this is not to be performed as a cantata but as a fully staged work. As such, with a complete cast, this would have run close to 100, minimum, not including the orchestra.

Musically, it's... well, very Jesuit. O'Conor was no doubt a man of very deep faith but almost negligible musicianship. The songs are all almost relentlessly cut time, save for the occasional (and very brief) foray into 6/8. But beyond that, virtually the entire score is written, enigmatically enough, in b-flat major. I'm not that well-versed in church music to know if there was some particular symbolism attached to that particular key, but it was a bit surprising.

So, right off the bat, is this something where the libretto even deserves to be preserved after almost a century? Probably not — it was no doubt didactic as all get-out, filled with its own smug religious superiority. But the problem is, we'll never know. And one more little gap appears in our theatre history.

A NAUTICAL KNOT (1909) (no cover available), by Maude Elizabeth Inch and W. Rhys-Herbert (who gave us the painfully dreadful WILD ROSE) has at least a bit more information available, from professional productions in London of the time. Also known as "The Belle of Barnstapoole", it appears to have been a romantic comedy in which the haughty belle of Barnstapoole finds herself serving Her Majesty as a tar on a sailing ship. She gets involved with the first mate of the HMS Bounding Billow, and (somehow) hilarity ensues. Think TWELFTH NIGHT on the high seas, I suppose. Running counterpoint to their naval infatuations is the story of a young village girl and a wandering artist, but it's difficult to know exactly how that one sorts out because the score gives no real indication.

Musically, KNOT is much more interesting than WILD ROSE, possibly because Rhys-Herbert could focus on just the music in this case. Rather than the typical operetta fare, he's filled the score with hornpipes and jigs and country songs, but each has been given a little musical push. The finale, with its nine vocal lines, is almost ravishingly beautiful, but the rest are lovely simply unto themselves, with no specific purpose than just being lovely (Again, shades of WILD ROSE). I have a vague suspicion this was a lot more comic a show than the score will admit.

Finally, THE COUNT AND THE CO-ED (1930), by Geoffrey Morgan and Geoffrey O'Hara, is in many respects, the greatest loss of all. Yes, it's a simple college musical, but it's Geoffrey Morgan, folks, one of the few librettists in this format who had a consistently off-base take to almost everything he wrote. I'm guessing that the script is fairly straight-forward college material: pretty girl meets rich (pretending to be poor) guy and, after a few totally unnecessary complications, lives happily ever after. Colour me seriously disappointed at this loss.

Still, there are a few fascinating points still be uncovered by just looking at the score. For example, Marjorie (who I think is the titular co-ed) is a soprano, while her love interest Hamilton is a high tenor, not the expected mid-to-high baritone one finds in the shows Morgan wrote with Frederick Johnson. O'Hara reserves the lower male voice for a secondary character who happens to be a motor cop (who, again I think, is part of the secondary romantic couple), which says something, I think, about how he saw voice as a portrayal of masculinity.

There's also a number in the second act, a quartet for Marjorie, Hamilton, and two secondary characters:

It's sad but it's funny
How frequently money
Will furnish us joy and delight
It's awfully handy
For flowers and candy
And for lights that are bright

If you had a nickel
And I had a nickel
Between us we'd both have a dime
But now in our pockets
We've nothing but hands
And we've nothing to spend but time

It's a very charming and sweet lyric, with just the right turn at the end... if only I knew how it fit into the plot! Knowing Morgan's other work, I'm sure it had quite the setting.

Any information any reader might have about these three works would be greatly appreciated.

4 comments:

bix1951 said...

found a news story in The Lewiston Daily March 11, 1933
talks about a production of The Count and the Coed

"The plot of the play is concerned with the adventures of a college student in his efforts to win the daughter of the college president. Masquerading as the Count whom everyone expects to endow the college, he gets into all kinds of difficulties. Of course it all comes out right in the end. The Count makes a large gift to the college, the youth wins the girl of his dreams, and they all live happily ever after."

Sean Martin said...

Knowing how perverse the authors can be with otherwise pedestrian material like this, it makes me all the more anxious to find a copy of the libretto. Thanks for letting me know about this!

bix1951 said...

I just read through my copy, which of course also lacks the dialogue.
It appears that the character Snooze is the one who pretends to be the Count. He is after Dolly McSpadden and they have a duet near the end in which they plan to get married. In the number "All Hail The Queen" it looks as though Snooze, pretending to be the Count, picks Dolly to be the May Queen.
Anyway, the serious good looking couple appears to be Hamilton and Marjorie, she is the most beautiful girl on campus, the belle.
Another couple looks to be Amy and Mark. It looks like three couples in all.
Yes, where might a full libretto be after 80 years?

I am interested in G.F. Morgan because I grew up in his Santa Monica house. My parents bought it after his death in 1951. There is a Morgan theater in Santa Monica named after him. He was also in the California Assembly. There is a monument to him on the Santa Monica beach.

Sean Martin said...

They do show up, albeit spottily. I've actually had pretty good luck with Arthur Penn's librettos, which, like these, were published separately. But anything out of CC Birchard is almost impossible. Not even the NYC Library of Performing Arts has any copies. *Very* frustrating.....