Wednesday, April 28, 2010

THE SLEEPING QUEEN

Another curiosity, this one demonstrates, as my friend Randy says, that "sometimes the story of the object is more interesting that the object itself". Such truly is the case of THE SLEEPING QUEEN (1865) by Michael Balfe, with a libretto by H. B. Farnie, and published by Ditson. There's no copyright, but despite the antique image on the cover, it looks to have been published some time in the 1930s. Something about that cover in a moment.

Born in Ireland in 1808, Balfe is best known for BOHEMIAN GIRL (1843), although he composed almost thirty additional works, few of which have been recorded, even in excerpt. A noted performer and singer in his own right as well as composer, Balfe performed across Europe before returning to London and settling down to write his operas. His first major success was FALSTAFF (1838) -- which was only recently revived for the first time since the work's premiere.

He was a quick yet sensitive composer, able to turn out an entire opera in as little as seven weeks, and his compositions were universally praised in their time. There were moments that, in historical retrospect, must have seemed like synchronistic greatness... such as the 1862 revival of BOHEMIAN GIRL in Rouen -- conducted by a young Massenet and performed by Celestine Galli-Marie, who went on to create the roles of Mignon and Carmen.

Designed as a short one-act for a cast of four accompanied by a piano and harmonium, THE SLEEPING QUEEN was a commissioned work, for the Opera di Camera, a small company operated by German Reed, a university chum. It's difficult even now to understand why Balfe would have taken the commission, because it's so wildly out of synch with the rest of his works... so much so that he rewrote it some years later as a full evening's work with chorus and full orchestration, replacing the spoken dialogue with proper recitatives.

So... what is this first draft attempt about? A queen is being pressured by her regent to marry the King of Spain, even though her heart lays elsewhere, with the son of one of the regent's many political foes. Thanks to her maid, who has been stringing the regent along with the tempted possility of an affair, the queen is able to finally marry the man she loves. It's short, only 76 pages, and moves at a pretty brisk pace over what I would gather to be about only 45 minutes, an hour max. The score is High Romantic, with some beautiful parts work for the ensemble. Stylistically, it screams the work of Balfe's mentor, Rossini, and I can only imagine that the full-out version screams even louder.

This chamber version has never been performed professionally (the proposed production by Opera dei Camera never took place, thanks to a falling out with a short-fused director) nor recorded, although the recent revival of interest in Balfe may result in it at some point.

As for the edition itself... well, it comes from Ditson, which published the previously mentioned RADIO MAID and physically follows their usual low standard of presentation. It looks like Ditson simply bought the chamber version and printed it wholecloth, without even bothering to do anything in the way of an edit. Everything -- the dialogue, the music, even the title page -- looks like a relic from the 19th century, so I have little doubt the publisher did naught to make it presentable, which is pretty much par for the course for Ditson anyway. It seems such an odd addition to their catalogue of juvenile operettas, but no one ever said Ditson was all that bright a company in the first place. Honestly, I wonder if any school ever tackled this: the role of the queen demands a near-coluratura soprano, and the maid's "ribbon" aria has some very tricky elements in its timing, with a rattle of 32nd notes preceded by a host of grace notes, which makes it appear to sound like nonstop hiccups. Colleges and universities might have tackled this -- but a high school? Very unlikely.

The copy I have also has the additional oddity that someone, at some point, carefully translated the lyrics into what looks like Czech. Not the dialogue, mind you, just the arias and ensembles. Perhaps the written text was replaced by a complete overhaul? I have no idea, good Reader, although it adds to the mystery of the object itself.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

THE CHINA SHOP

THE CHINA SHOP (1922) comes from the pen of one of my favourites in this genre, Arthur Penn. I've commented on the Gilbert and Sullivan resonances of his work in CAPTAIN CROSSBONES and YOKOHAMA MAID. This one doesn't disappoint in furthering that conceit, but it has more than a few problems all its own.

We start with a brief prologue, sung by two "chinamen" before the curtain:

A new Chinese operetta
We present to you tonight
The scene is laid in gay Ping Pong
The story isnt very long
In this Chinese operetta
We play for your delight
We'll charm your ears with many a tune
And finish up with a honeymoon
In ths Chinese operetta
We present to you tonight

Now the Chinese cannot boast much music
And what they have sounds queer
It's the kind of music that might make you sick
If we sang much of it here
So if the tunes we sing you
Dont sound very much Chinese
You will surely like them better
In this Chinese operetta
For they're likelier to please

Yes, it's sounding pretty insensitive right off the bat, but remember, this is 1922 we're talking about. Not exactly a time when anyone was let off lightly for being "different".

We open in a backroom behind Fat Sing's shop. The trade is exceedingly brisk (although exactly what he sells is -- and remains -- a mystery), most of it conducted by his son Sing Fong. Fat Sing is at the point in life when he realizes he cant take his wealth with him when he dies, and his son consoles him with the suggestion that he leave it to someone... like, maybe, his son.

FAT SING. Your suggestion is a good one, and like most good suggestions it will be ignored.

No, rather than spoil his son with wealth that would make work unnecessary, Fat Sing has decided to leave his fortune to the Ping Pong Orphan Asylum. Sing Fong none too gracefully accepts this, reminding his father that upon his demise, Sing Fong will become an orphan and might perhaps benefit, "if only indirectly", from his father's legacy.

This is interrupted by the entrance of Mush Lush, an avowed woman hater, and Hoy Tee Toy, the woman he wants as wife.

MUSH LUSH. I pointed out to her that love and hate being only a step removed from each other, she could naturally hope to overtake the former by walking briskly.

Hoy Tee Toy sends him on his way, then turns her attentions to Sing Fong, telling him that she has brought three lovely young ladies he might consider for his own wife, her "three belles". His choice is set aside when an impoverished fisherman enters, looking to sell a doll he has outside. The doll, as it turns out, is the lovely Lotus Blossom, the fisherman's niece, and Sing Fong is immediately smitten. He takes his new acquisition into the kitchen just before we meet Juscot Karfair, a "reformer" from Medicine Hat, Kentucky. Through him, Lotus Blossom realizes she's in love with Sing Fong and insists he become her husband. Sing Fong is more than happy to do this, until his father reminds him that she's penniless and Sing Fong is penniless, "a speedy cure for love".

But it gets even worse for Sing Fong: his father is leaving for points unknown. He informs Sing Fong that he'll tell everyone that his son is the heir apparent to his fabulous wealth, just for a laugh. Thinking he's rich beyond all expectation and therefore highly influential, the city fathers want Sing Fong to become the new chief magistrate. Although it's not clear exactly what, this puts another obstacle in his hoped for marriage to Lotus Blossom, who, weeping, returns to her uncle's shanty by the sea.

Act Two is a year later. Sing Fong is celebrating his first anniversary as magistrate with a garden party. No one understands why he hasnt married in all that time (considering they've all done their best to throw every available woman at him). Further, he's issued a decree that any heiresses who are still unmarried by sundown must leave Ping Pong in banishment. Hoy Tee Toy tells the three belles that one of them must land Sing Fong that night. But even that hope is dashed when his secretary reveals the magistrate's latest decree:

Sing Fong will marry nobody
Good bad or sick or healthy
Except an orphan who must be
Incontinently wealthy

("Incontinently"?)

Sing Fong enters, in a truly lousy mood, and immediately dismisses the belles because none of them are orphans. Now, why is he doing this, you ask? Because he wants to set things up so he can never marry: he's still in love with Lotus Blossom, who, true, is an orphan, but a penniless one. All seems lost until Wun Tun, one of Sing Fong's political associates, makes a marvelous discovery:

WUN TUN. Your illustrious father, who disappeared a year ago, was drowned a month later on a voyage to a far province. We kept the news from you at the time because we only learned about it an hour ago.

SING FONG. That was very thoughtful of you.

WUN TUN. Your father, as is now known to all, left every yen to the Ping Pong Orphan Asylum. This institution has been unoccupied for ten months at which time the last orphan was married off to a lonely widower. Consequently, no one felt concern when the Asylum itself burned to the ground.

Sing Fong hopes this means his father's wealth will revert to him, but Wun Tun cuts that off, telling him that the terms of the will dictate it must be divided amoung the indigent orphans of Ping Pong. For the last hour, apparently, they've been looking, trying to find these indigent orphans, with limited success. The parents of Ping Pong were all extremely healthy, and what orphans there were appear to have married well. The only one left is... Lotus Blossom, who now in addition to being an orphan is filthy rich. Free to fulfill his own decree, Sing Fong makes sure everyone, even the belles, gets married on the spot. So with much rejoicing (well, sorta: something on that in a moment), the curtain falls.

Now. What to make of this addled little play...

As noted, it's from 1922, later than CAPTAIN CROSSBONES and YOKOHAMA MAID (as well as the to-be-discussed LASS OF LIMRICK TOWN), and you would thnk that Penn's satirical outlook would have sharpened. Instead, the humour is dry to the point of arid, and this is the first piece of his I've encountered in which the plotting seems, well, slapdash, with a huge hole right in the centre. There's no reason to prevent Sing Fong from marrying Lotus Blossom at the end of the first act: his ascension to chief magistrate doesnt really change things for the two of them. But without creating this obstacle, Penn doesnt have a second act, so I guess it was just put in there with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

And that seems to permeate the entire show. It has a few great lines, but you almost get the feeling that Penn's tired of doing it all. As far as I can tell, this is the last show he wrote solo: everything from here on out was done in collaboration. Granted, he worked with some major names in the genre, like Geoffrey Morgan, whose individual creativities inspired him musically. But CHINA SHOP appears the work of a man about to give up. Unlike the wit of CROSSBONES or YOKOHAMA, this one tries far too hard, with too many poorly executed puns and too many jokes that want desperately to sound funny... when they just arent. The social satire we saw in the previous works is practically non-existant, and the characterizations are flatter than the two-dimensional stereotypes they hope to evoke. On a later reading, I thought, okay, maybe he wants everyone to be as bland as possible, perhaps to make the show into some sort of turn of the century commedia play where the performers are free to go as big as possible. But that doesnt work either.

Then there's the curious character of Karfair, the reformer from Kentucky. He doesnt really move the plot anywhere, and yet somehow this third-tier character gets the finale, a reprise of his earlier song "My Kentucky Home". It's slightly bewildering, as though Penn shoved him in in the last draft as yet another attempt at hoping to find something funny to say. I daresay a director today would find a way to eliminate him altogether, by reassigning his lines and incorporating songs from other works by Penn to fill in the gaps, thus leaving room for a finale about, you know, the happy couple, like it should be.

Musically, his work is just as good as ever, with some lovely ballads for Lotus Blossom and a some musically amusing ensemble work for the Three Belles. The first act finale hints at what Penn no doubt hoped to accomplish, with choral writing that could have come from Iolanthe or Patience. But the rest of it simply dies on the vine. I suspect that, in contrast to his other works, CHINA SHOP was not a wild success.

Curiously, Penn dedicates this work to the inhabitants of the "Island of Mantsees". A Google search failed to shed any light on where this might be: the only reference I could find was in a poem by Whittier, who appears to treat it as a metaphor. Maybe this was some kind of inside joke?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

SUNBONNETS AND OVERALLS

This exceptionally charming book dates from 1914 and is the work of Etta Craven Hogate and Eulalie Osgood Grover, with music by Isadora Martinez and wondrous little illustrations by Bertha Corbett Melcher (who created the characters). It's a combination "dramatic reader" and operetta for perhaps first- or second-graders and comes from a series of works by Hogate and Melcher about the Sunbonnet Babies and Overalls Boys. The lessons in the reader, for example, are adapted from The Sunbonnet Babies' Primer, The Overalls Boys, and The Sunbonnet Babies in Holland. Hogate and Melcher collaborated for many years on this series, taking the Sunbonnet Babies and the Overalls Boys to Switzerland, Italy, and other parts of the world as geography studies for second-graders. Inspired by Kate Greenway's drawings of little girls, the Sunbonnet Babies and Overalls Boys took the appearance to a cleaner, more graphic dimension, with a simpler line and a simple colour palatte.

The look of the characters was almost a mainstay for three decades and continues on even now, albeit in adaptations. Still, it's always little girls with their heads and faces completely hidden by enormous sunbonnets. Melcher painted thousands of these little images, releasing some as postcards during the height of the Sunbonnet craze in the mid 1900s. Sunbonnet figures seemed to be everywhere - on postcards, calendars, even on fine china. It was only natural that illustrators like Dorothy Dixon and Bernhardt Wall would jump on the bandwagon (in later years, Wall would claim he was first) and produce knockoffs, including Wall's 1906 postcards and his 1907 books Bennie and Jennie and The Sunbonnet Twins, images from which became part of quilters' standard catalogue until well into the 1930s.

The characters never completely left the American psyche — even as late as the 1960s, the little girls were still around, this time reborn as Holly Hobbie. By the time that character had passed on, craftspeople were re-discovering the original characters and putting them back into use, even as late as 2005.

What distinguishes the original series of books is that it's the first "early reader" to have continuing characters throughout the text, as well as to be the first to use full colour printing and a larger, easier-to-read font size.

The playlets themselves are, as one might expect, very simple works -- a girl is crying because her dolly carriage is broken, and a boy fixes it for her; or an invitation to go to the store in Dad's wagon is threatened by the loss of a sunbonnet. What I found interesting about the text, tho, is that the range of required vocabulary seems a great deal wider and demands more than, say Dick and Jane's exploits.

The music adapts simple folk tunes of the times, but Hogate's choreographic requirements are, in spots, pretty darn pushy if she expects them to be performed by first graders: a great deal of precision marching and walking and strolling and skipping that would keep the stage in constant motion. And considering that the girls' faces are always to be kept hidden (since that's part of the Sunbonnet Baby look), I have little doubt that there were plenty of performance accidents.

Still, it's fascinating to see the genesis of such an iconic image.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

AUNT DRUSILLA'S GARDEN

There are some titles that, for whatever reason, I just avoided picking up — no real reason, actually. I suppose more than anything it was looking at the operetta cover and thinking, "Sheessshh, it's like a dozen or so I already own; how many of these do I have to have?"

Then I give in, buy the damn thing — and lo and behold it comes with a surprise.

AUNT DRUSILLA'S GARDEN (1927), by George Murray Brown (who wrote MEET ARIZONA) and John S. Fearis (with a really lovely cover illustration by Doris Holt Hauman), arrived with a treat: a stage manager's guide, something I'd not seen before. In essence, the stage manager's guide is everything you need to know to put the show on without the benefit of a designer or a choreographer or a costumer or even a director. It's all laid out for you, step by torturous step. This one, put together by Clara Elizabeth Whips, contains almost everything, as you'll see below.

But let's go through the operetta itself first. Nelda, who ives in a city tenement with her large family, has been taken in by a maiden aunt who lives on a largish estate in the country. Problem is, Aunt Drusilla has a bit of a reputation as a dragon with the children in the village, so Nelda is left pretty much on her own yet again. She's allowed in her aunt's famous garden and to school, but that's about it.

The last day of school, Nelda gambles on her aunt's largesse and invites her school friends into the garden. Things predictably go awry, and Aunt Drusilla starts to throw everyone out, then proceeds to rip Nelda a new one.

AUNT D. Well, I never! PRU, COME QUICK! The yard is full of strange children, and I who never let a strange child inside of that gate!

AUNT P. Wh
at a sight! How'd they all get in?

NELDA. Please dont send them away! I only asked hem in to learn their names and get acquainted.

AUNT D. Stop right there, Nelda Alvenia. When I want you get acquainted, I'll pick out your acquaintances myself.

But she ultimately allows them to stay (just this once!) as long as they watch out for the signs and dont make a mess, all the while reminding them of how much different (and better!) things were when she was a child. Unfortunately, tho, someone picks a flower and someone else steps into a flower bed and things are just awful all around and Aunt Drusilla throws everyone out like she should have done originally and Nelda cries and Aunt Drusilla tells her to man up as she stomps off in high dudgeon.

The kids all come back and tell Nelda they know it's not her fault her aunt is a terror, but she has to shove them all out just before Aunt Drusilla comes back to tend to her garden. Suddenly, a softball comes flying in and, breaking a plant in the process, lands at Dru's feet.

Aunt Drusilla is not amused.

She decides to keep the ball as a punishment, and the boys swear revenge. Once Drusilla and Nelda leave for town, the boys invade. They're just about to ruin the garden when one of them smells smoke coming from the kitchen. Breaking a window, he gets inside to find the stove on fire. The boys quickly put it out, just as Drusilla comes home. Realizing she misjudged the children, she invites them all back on the following Monday for a lawn party.

Act Two is the party itself, with much singing and dancing. Things are going just spiffy when the local postman drops by with a letter from a long-lost uncle, who's made a fortune out west and has returned to put Nelda's family into the lap of luxury, which means she'll be going home.

Aunt Drusilla is sad. But Nelda cheers her up with a masque in which all the children come out wearing flower costumes of one kind or another, because

In the city's noisy street
Gardens have no chance to grow

There the people seldom meet

Pretty flowers they'd like to know

Yet a garden each may tend

Finding joy from hour to hour

If he thinks of every friend

As a rare and valued flower

Everyone may own a garden

If he chooses friends for flowers

Nelda then arranges everyone in a perfectly lovely stage picture and announces, "There, isnt this a nice garden? And we will call it Aunt Drusilla's Garden!" Cue the finale music, please.

Okay, you can see why I might be loathe to put this in the collection. It's meant mostly for the lower grades, with all unison singing — and to be ruthlessly honest, it's just not that good. Little wonder it shows up so much on eBay and some of the other auction sites. But what distinguished this particular copy, dear Reader was...

... the Stage Manager's Guide. These are unbelievably rare, because they would be the first thing to be tossed after a production was finished. They contain detailed notes about the set and costumes, as well as step-by-step instructions for the choreography and particular stage moments. Clara Whips, who prepared this one, suggests a cast of no less than 50 and then lays out how to wrangle -- er, handle -- everyone.

This spread, for example, demonstrates what the local teacher should do for some of the musical numbers, including the geometry of the movement. If you notice, it's all very tightly written, much like we saw with THIRTY MINUTES WITH THE MIKADO. Whips also adds to the cast with a few creative additions of her own, such as the Wild Rose, which she inserts into the masque as an opportunity for a strong dancer to have a solo moment. Whips also extends the number and type of flowers presented by the children, as well as adding an entire additional panto, involving butterflies, fairy sprites, rain drops, a few bees, and the West Wind. I dont know that such augmentation was the standard operating procedure for the Guides, but it'd be interesting to find out.

Whips prepared costume sketches for the masque, with very detailed notes on execution, with an emphasis on the use of crepe paper and cardboard. The sketches, of course, show performers substantially older than the lower-grade children who would actually be performing this. The colour work was done by the previous owner, a Miss "H", who was in charge of the "drills". The cover notes that it's IMPORTANT (with a double underscore) that this be "returned to desk". Throughout the script, there are several pencil notations of cast placement, and it shows that Miss "H" followed the Guide almost to the letter. Good for her!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

PIRATES OF PENZANCE

Now you're probably thinking, "PIRATES OF PENZANCE? Huh? What's that got to do with this place?"

Well, nothing actually -- and yet, in its own way, everything.

See, here's the thing: Gilbert and Sullivan had a terribly time with copyright thievery. Their shows would open to rave revues in London, but before they could bring a production to the US, half a dozen producers here would have already stolen the material and put it on the boards in blatantly unauthorized (and yet, given the copyright laws of the time, perfectly legal) productions. G&S simply never got a chance when it came to productions in America...

... until PIRATES. Shrewdly, they decided to premier it in the US first, obtain the US copyright on the work, then take it back to London for its proper premiere at D'Oyly Carte.

So, in 1880, New York got to see PIRATES before London, and it was, of course, a sensation. Almost immediately, two national tours were released -- both under the very careful supervision of G&S. It was only then that they sailed home.

However, between the US premiere in 1880 and the London premiere in 1882, they tinkered a bit with the script and the score. Not in huge ways: a slightly rewritten scene here, an almost barely reworked song there. The biggest change comes at the end of the second act, when the ensemble sings the amazing chorale about Poetry. The pirates are revealed to be all lords gone astray. "What, all?" asks the Major-General. "Well, nearly all," replies the King. This exchange doesnt exist in the official playscript, and I was a little surprised to find it intact in the edition of the score I now have. Looking further, it seems that the copy I have is marked "Authorized Copyright Edition", with the date 1880 -- so it seems that I have managed to acquire one of the rehearsal scores used by one of the very first national tours, one printed specifically for the purpose of covering the copyright needs. It was owned by Lois Jane Barth, who played the part of Ruth, but sadly I cant find out anything more about Ms. Barth.

As I read through it one night, a few other things emerged: a different overture, for example. Not different in big ways, but still, different. Some different phrasings in Frederic's "Stay, Ladies, Stay". Taken all together, it wouldnt so much be like looking at a different show so much as it would be that nagging sense of "Okay, it sounds almost right, but why does it feel... not quite right?"

It's almost impossible to express my excitement at finding this. I've always loved PIRATES, ever since seeing it in Central Park with Kevin Kline (who will always be my Pirate King) -- a rowdy, boistrous production that no doubt would have made G&S giggle a bit themselves. But to find the prototype score... reader, you honestly have no idea what visceral pleasure this gives me. The book itself is in gorgeous shape for something 130 years old, and it's almost joyous to see these woodblock printed pages with their carefully reduced piano versions of "Climbing over rocky mountain" and "When a felon's not engaged in his employment". This version doesnt even try to emulate the sound of the orchestrations -- it's about as bare bones as you can get, and I have no doubt it's exactly as Sullivan originally wrote it on his piano.

THE SINGER OF NAPLES

A surprisingly good piece of work, THE SINGER OF NAPLES (1928), by Cynthia Dodge and May Hewes Dodge, seems to inform, right off the bat, why some of the other work by the Dodges is so frustrating. If you look at other titles by May Hewes, you'll find her husband's name attached — and in every case save one, the dramatic construction is, to be kind, problematic. A huge first act. A middling-sized second. And a very brief but exposition-intense third, where everything you really need to know to resolve the story is crammed into two pages of near breathless dialogue between minor characters.

Not so with THE SINGER OF NAPLES, I'm happy to say. While it's not the best the genre has to offer, it's well-paced and solidly written, in terms of both music and dialogue. But what surprised me more than anything was the maturity of the story.

We're in Naples, where a family of itinerate street singers, led by the patriarch Nicola, are engaged in their profession outside the garden town house of one Countess of Tristiani, who's well known for taking handsome young singers under her wing (as well as under other things) as she propels their careers. Nicola's foster son Guido attracts her attention, despite the worries expressed by Nicola's daughter Gabriella that Guido will forget his musical roots — and her, although she never quite says anything about the latter. After all, they were just childhood friends, and of course he's completely blind to her attention.

Still, Guido is dazzled by the Countess' attention and the prospects of fame, and when we see him again two years later, he's prepping for his debut at La Scala as Pagliacci. He's wrangled a promise from the Countess that if his debut is successful, she'll marry him. Once more, Gabriella tries to talk some sense into him, but he's a bit too caught up in the diva lifestyle to pay attention.

As we might expect, the debut is a disaster. His voice is ruined. The Countess, now no longer interested in her plaything, ignores him and moves on to yet another protégé, and Guido returns to Nicola and Gabriella a sadder but wiser man... albeit with a bit of a secret: the damage done to his voice was not permanent. He can still sing, but now he knows who his real audience is — and who the woman is who truly loves him.

Okay, these days, this would come across as sappy and sentimental... but kindly notice some of the themes running through this. A rich woman using younger (and much poorer) men as sexual toys: it's never baldly stated, of course, but certainly suggested broadly enough. The idea that riches arent always measured by wealth, something no doubt caused by the riot of bubble money just before the crash of the Depression. Even more amazing, there are no cultural or ethnic stereotypes in this play — instead, we have fully-drawn characters. Even the Countess is portrayed as less a facile villain than a woman who is, for her own reasons, simply incapable of a relationship. Her intentions are all well-meaning — Cynthia Dodge goes almost out of her way to make that plain — but she just cant find the right fit. As such, the gossip spoken behind her back comes off as cruel — and as a result, a frighteningly honest portrayal for the times of the results of meanspirited rumour.

THE SINGER OF NAPLES also distinguishes itself by being, at times, a full fledged opera rather than an operetta. There are long stretches in which the score almost flows from one character's song to the next, with no dialogue inbetween. The sixteen-page opening number (remember: most are only five or six) is divided across the stage for three distinct groups, a pretty nifty piece of construction, with some credible parts work that must have been a challenge for its inexperienced performers. Guido has a couple of truly lovely ballads that do indeed sound Napolitano, and Gabriella has one heart-breaking solo in the second act. And there are a couple of vicious little comedy numbers — one in particular on the importance of style and au courant clothing if one wants to succeed in life — that remind us that we're not watching some pleasant little show about happy Italian streetfolk. Rather, THE SINGER OF NAPLES comes across as a shockingly solid drama: predictable, to be sure, but with far more depth than your usual high school operetta fare.

I'm still not sure what, if any, relationship there might have been between Cynthia, May, and John, but I'm pretty certain it was more than just a coincidence of a last name. Cynthia was also an accomplished illustrator whose work appears on the covers of some of the Dodge's other efforts, and she was also a composer in her own right — albeit one that specialized in musicals for much younger performers (As noted in this blog earlier, she did all the work on WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH SALLY). I suspect she was possibly John's sister or cousin, given the time lines in which the various Dodges' work appears, but there's nothing to substantiate that. The one huge loss on this particular copy of SINGER is that the front cover has been hacked apart and pasted on card stock, no doubt because of the wear and tear of rehearsal.