Imagine this. I play you a CD of musical comedy music by a composer I will not name. If you are familiar with late 19th and early 20th century stage music, you might guess Victor Herbert, early Jerome Kern, early and middle Sigmund Romberg. The tunes are all attractive, the lyrics pleasant and sometimes even clever — and the whole thing seems to stand somewhere between Gilbert and Sullivan and Rodgers and Hart. Then I tell you the composer is Lionel Monckton and you go, “Huh?”
Well, in his day, Lionel John Alexander Monckton (1861-1923) was quite popular in England. He would be all but forgotten today if it were not for a complete recording of his “The Arcadians” on the Troy label performed by the Ohio Light Opera group and for the recording I am reporting on.
It is called “The Monckton Album” and it appears on the Diversions label (24110), performed by a wonderful group called Theatre Bel-Etage, conducted by Mart Sander. A personable group of principals and a very good chorus offer us excerpts from three of Monckton’s works: “Cingalee” (1904), “The Arcadians” (1909) and “Quaker Girl” (1910). The plots are immaterial, since we have only excerpts, but the complete lyrics are thoughtfully provided by the production team (although why they chose to print on a bright yellow background is beyond me).
What can I say? A composer almost totally unknown and several of his songs from long neglected works? Well, after hearing what passes for songs in current Broadway non-revival musicals, I found this set a breath of fresh air. You will too.