We caught a fun "staged reading" of the nearly lost light opera, Floradora, this weekend. The original book was by Owen Hall, with lyrics by E. Boyd-Jones and Paul Rubens (*not* Pee-wee Herman), and music by Leslie Stuart.
This show was originally put on at the Lyric Theatre in London on 11 November 1899. The show is about an imaginary Philippine island, Floradora, and a very sought after perfume that carries the same name. Like many of the light operas popular at this time, the plot revolves around hidden identities, lost loves, nearly lost loves, and the making of new love connections.
While there was no single source for a score and libretto, Neil Midkiff and Mark Kenig scoured everything they could find on the show in the British Library, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library as well as private collections, to come up with this new version. I can imagine that this was a bit like archeology and I think they did an amazing job!
The show pokes fun at the wealthy aristocrats, Americans, Phrenology (the popular pseudoscience about discerning personality traits from the bumps on one's head) and the Royal Aquarium (which never actually housed any living fish...).
This was a lovely show. The cast of characters all had wonderful voices that carried easily in the Mountain View Center for the Performing Art's second stage, and the orchestra was a delight to listen to. I was happy for the supertitles all the same, as the unmiced voices were sometimes difficult to understand when the singer's back was turned to you (the theater is nearly "in the round", with three audience seating areas).
We were forewarned at the top of the show that the traditional performances of this would've included a cast of up to 90 people. As the theater was quite small, the ensemble carried many roles (including being both Philippine island natives to leftover English débutantes). This was handled in quite an entertaining way - if the women had on a flower lei, she was a native. Carrying a parasol? An English deb.
My English husband did note at one point that you would never say: "a perfume at a shilling and three halfpence a bottle", but rather: "a perfume at a shilling and thrupence ha'penny" :-)
Myself, I had to wonder if the authors may have intended the chorus to have a West Country accent, as the opening number seemed to attempt to rhyme Floradora with "...we adore her". (this opinion comes from listening to things like bananer, instead of banana... around my house :-)
The show was a bit on the long side, though, I enjoyed every song, so I can see why it was difficult to make cuts. If this were to go on the main stage at the Lyric Theatre, they may want to consider cutting "Willie Was a Play Boy", which was the only number that I noticed did not progress the plot (though it was very cute and sung well, so I can see an argument for keeping it as well).
There were only two (sold out) performances of this, but keep your eyes peeled for this to maybe one day appear as a fully staged production. It is an outstanding light opera with classic tales that does deserve to be told again.