This recording is a worthwhile collector’s item. No recordings are to be found in the catalogue of two of the works represented. The Arcadians was issued by EMI on a highlights disc (Sadler’s Wells performance) and later complete with dialogue by Ohio Light Opera. The Cingalee and The Quaker Girl have been generally forgotten works.
This presentation is the inspiration of the English-speaking baritone, Mart Sander, whom I met in Cirencester & Cheltenham, England during the summer of 2002 at the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society convention. Full marks to the Estonians for reviving this important music by Monckton in an excellent recording with good orchestral backing. Many readers will be aware that Monckton’s musicals were not entirely his own work and often relied on contributions by Talbot or Rubens. This genre is so much a part of Britain’s heritage that I am amazed to find The Quaker Girl (popular with amateur operatic circles up to the 1960s) has never been recorded since the acoustic days of 78s, and only then in a band selection.
The Cingalee ran for 365 performances in London and was a moderate success while The Quaker Girl’s run of 536 performances was topped by The Arcadians with a considerable 809 performances: they remained popular for a long time. Set in Ceylon, The Cingalee contains little in the music to give it an Eastern flavour yet is remembered for Monckton’s catchy sextet, The Island of Gay Ceylon [tk.5] and Ruben’s, White and Brown Girl [tk.7]. It is a pity that The Island of Gay Ceylon is abridged because the quality of the material we hear is good.
The Arcadians is a make-believe story which opens in Arcadia and ends in a London street. The Pipes of Pan, Charming Weather and Back your Fancy are key numbers that are often encored. The Quaker Girl is particularly tuneful and in its story contrasts Quaker morality with Parisienne high fashion. Only Come to the Ball [tk.39] continues to be well known, but listen to Tony from America [tk.35] and When a bad bad Boy numbers [not represented]. The numbers have a distinctive charm that should not be underestimated. This is an enjoyable and well recorded disc. It should be pointed out that the songs are of a continuously running medley and not in the order they appear in the show. The links are nicely arranged. The opening chorus [tk.1] is really a charming chorus from Act II where the chorus singing has been raised an octave (with good effect). I should have preferred this complete rather than punctuate it with a short ‘Saleem’ chorus (also from Act II). The quality of English is excellent: there is little hint of the lyrics not being delivered by singers natively English though at times consonants might have been made more deliberately. Certainly, both the pace and idiom of Edwardian operetta have been well studied by this entrepreneuring Bel Etage group. I find the quality of the singing excellent with warm sopranos providing good expression, a distinctive tenor and resonant baritone, as well as the support of an excellent chorus. In some of the tracks the singers are placed more forward on the sound stage than I should have preferred since this can blot out the detail of orchestral colour.
A full colour booklet is nicely arranged with lyrics and useful background historical notes in English. Maybe the potential in this music will be generally recognised to consider more complete recordings of The Country Girl, Miss Gibbs, or The Rebel Maid.