Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Wags

The composer Charles Dibdin provided a great deal of the music for late Georgian theatre, and now his one-man comic opera, The Wags, is available for listening once again.

Dibdin originally performed the piece 108 times during the 1790-91 season, standing behind a piano and impersonating a variety of comic gentlemen. Now Retrospect Opera, which researches and records overlooked British theatrical music, has come out with a new album of The Wags featuring the versatile performer Simon Butteriss and pianist Stephen Higgins.

You can purchase the CD through Retrospect Opera's shop, and access the show online with visuals supplied by video artist Maria Anthony. It's worth checking out, not for its plot, which is slight to non-existent, but for Dibdin's delightful songs. Each song is sung by one of the group of wags in the play who gather at a house in town to swap stories and indulge their appetites.

My favorite song in the show is "The Joys of the Country" sung by the Irish character Mr. O'Gig. Jane Austen was apparently a fan, too, since the song was one of several of Dibdin's works in her personal collection of sheet music. The chorus proclaims:

          Oh the mountains, and vallies, and bushes,
          The pigs, and the screech-owls, and thrushes,
          Let bloods and let bucks to praise London agree,
          Oh the joys of the country, my jewel, for me!

Another Dibdin song, "My Poll and my Partner Joe," later got turned into a melodrama by John Thomas Haines. Incidentally, Dibdin's son, Thomas Dibdin, ended up writing some of his own melodramas, including Valentine and Orson, which is referenced frequently by Charles Dickens.

In any case, The Wags can be delightful at times. I'm glad Retrospect Opera is keeping this wonderful music alive!