No 7 July 1977 Edited by Michael Walters
This production may be stepping outside the scope of GG a little bit, but I am a sucker for the syrupy music of Lehar, which, I suppose, appeals to the sensual side of my nature! This was the first time I had seen this piece on stage though I know the music well. The operetta in its uncut English adaptation is too long; it went up at 7.30 and didn't come down till 10.30 with only one 20-minute interval. Nevertheless, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had in the theatre for a long time - and the piece was excellently done, much better than I expected. On checking with the Glocken-Verlag libretto the following day, I found that several cuts had in fact been made, several reprises had been wisely deleted, and two numbers were cut - "A cup of Tea with You" and "I have searched the World", the latter cut making the melody's reappearance briefly in the second and third act finales rather curious. Much has been added to Lehar's original for the English version. The addition of the character of Rudi von Westhof proves that some types of adding can work given the right treatment. I remember reading the libretto many years ago and thinking that this character was a total waste of time. In this production, due to the brilliant performance of Tony Brumby, it did work. The characters of Chi-Fu and Wong-Tao, however, I still think contribute nothing, and the scenes with them are unfunny. They could be cut, or at least cut down and merged into one. The first act suffers from the problem of length - there is much too much of it for the plot; the boring subsidiary love affair of the Countess and the Colonel could profitably be cut, it is quite irrelevant and inevitably terminates at the end of the Act when the action shifts from Vienna to China. I believe the episode is not in the original, but put in for the English version.
The scenery was simple, but effective. The Act one costumes were beautiful. Few of the chorus, however, knew how to wear Chinese costumes elegantly and these tended to look a trifle tatty. In spite of a few wrong notes (I suppose inevitably) in the Overture; the first act was excellent musically. The chorus were a bit weak, and their diction inaudible, but the principals had good voices, and the music is Lehar at his most sentimental. Lisa (Wyn Ive) acted and sang with great charm. Sou-Chong (Clyde Davids) was over made-up, but he played the part superbly. For his opening song he stood stock still in the centre of the stage and captured one's whole attention. The part is written down in the amateur versions, and this gentleman was clearly a baritone. He had not quite the top for "Beneath the Window" but he sang it very carefully and very intelligently, though he was obviously working hard to hold the top notes. On the final top G he came in just below it, but then rose up, held it magnificently, and then proceeded to do a slow crescendo on it, which brought the house down. It was one of the most intensely moving performances I have in seen for a long time, keeping up the pretence of inscrutability right the way through, with emotion just under the surface ("His sorrows a Chinaman never reveals; and nobody knows how deeply he feels") till after the occidentals had gone and he broke down and sobbed his heart out in his sister's arms. Rudi (Tony Brumby) reminded me of Robin Asquith, and though he has not really got much of a singing voice, his enunciation was crystal clear, and he was a beautiful dancer (he choreographed some of the numbers, including all those in which he appeared). He had a most loveable stage personality, the sort of person that every time he came on, one thought "Ah, here he is again, good!" Gustl (Derek Kemp) had a good voice but was stiff; the only time he really unbent was in the duet "Love's a Game". Princess Mi (Sue Davids) was all charm and sweetness with a lovely voice and a winning personality. Colonel Bloch (John Bruce) sang well, but the part as written is exceedingly tedious. The other characters varied from adequate to slightly less than adequate. The Society did The Geisha last year. How I wish I had seen that, rather than the Molesey production. MICHAEL WALTERS
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