Burletta (in one act).
The plot revolves around William (a music teacher) and Captain O'Leary (commander of the troops at Little Puddleton), who are both competing for the hand of the mayor's daughter, Fanny Dobbs. Against her father's preference, Fanny chooses William. The mayor and Captain O'Leary pledge that they will accept the situation only if it should happen that one day they both go down on their knees and kiss William's hand. A short time later, the mayor receives a letter informing him of the imminent visit to the town of Catalini, an Italian prima donna. Upon her arrival, the diva is naturally greeted in a most flattering manner, two of the most respectful being (naturally) Mayor Dobbs and Captain O'Leary, who both salute the diva's extended hand on their bended knees. At this point, Catalini throws off her wig and clothing to reveal herself as William. He and Fanny are forthwith married and 'so we conclude, at least live happily for the rest of their lives'. A theatre critic writing for the New South Wales Examiner proposed in his review that not only was the burletta's story 'its least recommendation', but also that the plot device concerning the pledge was 'most improbable' (11 May 1842, p.3).
Although this 'new original musical burletta' was claimed by Nagel as his own, the similarities between it and Adolf Bauerle's Die Falsche Catalani in Krahwinkel suggest some degree of relationship. As Katharine Brisbane notes, however, 'such local adaptations were as common in Australia as in Europe at that time, when copyright in a work lay with the publisher, not the author' (Companion to Theatre in Australia, p.213).
Despite having a question mark over its origins, The Mock Catalani in Little Puddleton still holds a significant place in Australian theatre history, because of the precedent it set as a locally written and staged work of theatre. The colonial authorities, having previously discouraged Australian settings for theatrical productions because of the 'special circumstances of the colony,' were by the early 1840s in a position to relax the censorship guidelines. The first real evidence of this change occurred on 23 April 1842, when the New South Wales Colonial Secretary, Edward Deas Thomson, granted Nagel's play a license for performance (so long as the oaths were removed). Margaret Williams notes in Australia on the Popular Stage that Joseph Simmons, himself one of the colony's earliest playwrights, appeared in the lead role of William (p.19).
A brief review in the Australian records that'A satire upon the rage for encouraging foreign singers, the dialogue is smart [and] some of the music (composed by the author) is pretty'. It must be assumed that the burletta underwent some changes prior to its revival in 1843, however, as the Colonial Secretary himself notes in a review of the 1843 revival (re-titled The Mock Catalani in Little Puddleton):
'Considerable dissatisfaction has been expressed in circles at the omission of the new songs written expressly for the occasion by Captain Nagel, and which were announced in Monday's bills. We regret this on every account, and must express our hope that the ladies, to whom these songs were assigned, will make the amende honorable to the clever author, by bringing them before the public in the next representation of this burletta' (2 June 1842, p.1275).
Charles Nagel is known to have composed a number of songs for the original production. Additional numbers would most likely have comprised both traditional and popular songs of the period.
The 14 June 1842 performance at the Royal Victoria Theatre was preceded by an address in verse, performed by Charles Nagel, which explained the purpose of the evening's function. This address was later published as a broadside under the title 'Farewell address to the 28th regiment on their departure to India' (1842).
A review in the Australasian Chronicle (14 May 1842): 2, of three songs from the opera includes 'No. 1 A Sensitive Plant. Aria, sung in the new Burletta entitled "The Mock Catalani." Words by Shelly; music by Charles Nagel, Esq.' This song is possibly a musical arrangement by Nagel of the poem 'A Sensitive Plant' by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822).
1842: Royal Victoria Theatre, Sydney, 4 May.
1843: Royal Victoria Theatre (aka Royal City Theatre), Sydney, 29 May (as The Mock Catalani in Little Puddleton).
1853: Theatre Royal (Geelong, Vic), 8 and 13 May.