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Sidney Jones: The Geisha
31 May 2006

JONES: The Geisha

Should Opera Today readers want to test where they would place themselves on a spectrum ranging from “completely politically incorrect” to “utterly politically correct,” the Hyperion Helios re-release of Sidney Jones “Japanese musical play” The Geisha surely will do the trick.

Sidney Jones: The Geisha

Lillian Watson, Christopher Maltman, Sarah Walker, Richard Suart, New London Light Opera Chorus, New London Orchestra / Ronald Corp

Hyperion CDH55245 [CD]

$10.99  Click to buy

Whether one does or does not have a taste for this genre — basically music hall Gilbert and Sullivan — the Asian stereotyping and parody here will either strike one as innocuous, perhaps at worst an unfortunate residue of a different time or place — or as completely beyond the bounds of civil etiquette.

From “Chon Kina”:

I’m the smartest little geisha in Japan
And the people call me Roli Poli San....

Chon kina, chon kina
Chon kina, chon kina
Nagasaki, Yokohama, Hakodaate ho!

From “Jolly young Jacks are we”:

We’ve seen all sorts and sizes too-
Some rather quaintly dress’d ones;
But give me eyes of English blue-
Believe me, they’re the best ones!

And — hold on — from “The Toy Monkey”:

Nobody doubts that this horrid Japanese
Wives — orientally has got;
One, two, three, or as many as you please....

Click! Click! he’s a monkey on a stick....
So I’ll keep him alive
Till my English friends arrive-
When I’ll wish him a polite good-day.

That number — written by a Lionel Monckton and inserted into Sidney Jones’s score — precedes the charming ditty, “Ching-a-ring-a-ree.” We will not go there.

Hyperion evidently has no compunctions recording — and then re-releasing — this material. The well-written booklet essay elaborates on Jones’s career and times, but never ventures a word regarding the material, other than to explain that Jones’s hit followed on the success of The Mikado. The score couldn’t hope for a better performance; Ronald Corp leads the New London Orchestra and a fine cast of singers, including Christopher Maltman and Sarah Walker.

Basically this is a series of songs, mostly relentlessly upbeat, in the “toe-tapping” mode, but with a weepy ballad or two thrown in. Most all the tunes start on the tonic and return there as often as possible. After about 10 minutes, how good some of Wagner’s knottiest chromaticism would sound. After 30 minutes, one longs for Wozzeck, some Moses und Aron, Die Soldaten. As the 75-minute mark approaches, keep any sharp objects away — the threat to do damage to one’s own eardrums is very real.

Evidently there is an audience for this music, as Hyperion has found the original recording worthy of re-release on its “budget” label, Helios. If Jack Bauer, during next season’s 24, must refrain from the more physical methods of extracting information from hideous terrorists, perhaps he will avail himself of a boombox and this recording, press the “repeat” button, sit back, and wait for the screaming to start. The world will be safe soon enough.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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