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Old Days And New
by [?]

Some toothless old sentimentalist or other periodically sets up a melancholy howl for “the good old days of comic opera,” whatever or whenever they were. Perhaps none of us, once past forty, is guiltless in this respect. Nothing, not even the smell of an apple-blossom from the old homestead, the sight of a daguerreotype of a miss one kissed at the age of ten, or a taste of a piece of the kind of pie that “mother used to make” so arouses the sensibility of a man of middle age as the memory of some musical show which he saw in his budding manhood. That is why revivals of these venerable institutions are frequently projected and, some of them, very successfully accomplished. When a manager revives an old drama he must appeal to the interest of his audience; it may not be the identical interest which held the original spectators of the piece spell-bound, but, none the less, it must be an interest. When a manager revives an old musical comedy he appeals directly to sentiment.

Of course, the exact date of the good old days is a variable quantity. I have known a vain regretter to turn no further back than to the nights of The Merry Widow, The Waltz Dream, The Chocolate Soldier, The Girl in the Train, and The Dollar Princess, in other words to the Viennese renaissance; another, in using the phrase, is subconsciously conjuring up pictures of La Belle Helene, Orphee aux Enfers, or La Fille de Madame Angot, good fodder for memory to feed on here; a third will instinctively revert to the Johann Strauss operetta period, the era of The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief and Die Fledermaus; a fourth cries, “Give us Gilbert and Sullivan!” A fifth, when his ideas are chased to their lair, will rhapsodize endlessly over the charms of the London Gaiety when The Geisha, The Country Girl, and The Circus Girl were in favour; a sixth, it seems, finds his pleasure in Americana, Robin Hood, Wang, The Babes in Toyland, and El Capitan; a seventh becomes maudlin to the most utter degree when you mention Les Cloches de Corneville, or La Mascotte, products of a decadent stage in the history of French opera-bouffe. Not long ago I heard a man speak of the cadet operas in Boston (did a man named Barnet write them?) as the last of the great musical pieces; and every one of you who reads this essay will have a brother, or a son, or a friend who went to see Sybil forty-three times and The Girl from Utah seventy-six. Twenty years from now, as he sits before the open fire, the mere mention of They Wouldn’t Believe Me will cause the tears to course down his cheeks as he pats the pate of his infant son or daughter and weepingly describes the never-to-be-forgotten fascination of Julia Sanderson, the (in the then days) unattainable agility of Donald Brian.

In no other form of theatrical entertainment is the appeal to softness so direct. The man who attends a performance of a musical farce goes in a good mood, usually with a couple of friends, or possibly with the girl. If he has dined well and his digestion is in working order and he is young enough, the spell of the lights and the music is irresistible to his receptive and impressionable nature. There are those young men, of course, who are constant attendants because of the altogether too wonderful hair of the third girl from the right in the front row. Others succumb to the dental perfection of the prima donna or to the shapely legs of the soubrette. All of us, I am almost proud to admit, at some time or other, are subject to the contagion. I well remember the year in which I considered myself as a possible suitor for the hand of Della Fox. Photographs and posters of this deity adorned my walls. I was an assiduous collector of newspaper clippings referring to her profoundly interesting activities, although my sophistication had not reached the stage where I might appeal to Romeike for assistance. The mere mention of Miss Fox’s name was sufficient cause to make me blush profusely. Eventually my father was forced to take steps in the matter when I began, in a valiant effort to summon up the spirit of the lady’s presence, to disturb the early morning air with vocal assaults on She Was a Daisy, which, you will surely remember, was the musical gem of The Little Trooper. Here are the words of the refrain: