A party of bachelor tourists, 'tired of the matrimonial thrall, resolve to emigrate and seek seclusion in some out of the way spot." They set sail under the guidence of Captain Cook Jnr. and eventually land on what they believe to be an uninhabited island. One of the ship's crew, a young middy named Moustique, sets out to explore the island and discovers that it is peopled solely by women. 'Consternation ensues among the [men] when they learn this intelligence; and their fears are further augmented upon hearing that any man found upon the island must suffer death before sunrise on the succeeding day. When the women, led by their ruler Queen Venus and her ministry, discover the men they vow to wreck vengeance upon them. Moustique is to be spared, however, on account of his youth. In the end, however, 'love conquers the hearts of the manumitted maidens, and they succumb to Cupid's influence.' Marriage is reverted to, misogyny banishes, and it is to be hoped all live happily ever afterwards" (Sydney Morning Herald 2 July 1889, p3).
Initially titled Queen Venus, Clarke and French composer Henri Kowalski (q.v.) collaborated on this three act opera during 1880, and it was almost completed at the time of the librettist's death the following year. Although the first complete production of the opera in Australia was undertaken in 1889 (under the title Moustique), the opera is said to have been staged in Brussels in 1883 under Kowalski's musical direction.
The Sydney Morning Herald theatre critic assessed the libretto as 'slight in the extreme," pointing to Clarke's failure to give the story's namesake enough narrative time. 'The only one left out in the cold," he or she writes, "is Moustique.... The piece as it stands is rather like Hamlet minus the Prince of Denmark" (p10). The libretto was viewed by the same reviewer as lending difficulties to the setting of the score that the composer was largely unable to deal with. "That there is good work in the opera cannot be denied... [it] is invariable light and sparkling, partaking as it does of the Offenbach school, and it contains some pleasing and catching compositions... The orchestration is not so able as it might be, but the music ripples along gaily from start to finish" (3 July 1889, p10). Songs known to have been written for the opera are: "I am the Merry Little Moustique" and "Work, Work."
1883 : Alcazar Royal, Brussels ; no details (reference - 'Musical and Dramatic Notes' Sydney Morning Herald 19 September 1896, p4)
1889 : New Opera House, Sydney ; 2-12 July. Dir. Henry Bracy ; Lessee. John Solomon ; Mngr. John Solomon (theatre) and Philip Stuart (for Henri Kowalski) ; Music Dir. Henri Kowalski ; Scenic Art. George Campbell ; Cost. David Jones and Mark Foy. - Cast incl. Lillian Tree, Clara Thompson, Flora Graupner, Isabel Stuart, Kate Freeman, Annie Brown, Francis Trigge, Fanny Montague, Amy De Courcy, Henry Bracy, John Forde, Williams Stevens.
Some confusion over Moustique and its relationship to other works by Clarke has occurred during the past five decades. The first concerns a possible connection between the opera and one of Clarke's first attempts at writing for the stage, a burlesque or farce titled, The Lady of the Lake. The second is a possible connection between Moustique and A Daughter of Eve; Or, A Lesson in Love (1880).
1. Ian McLaren in Marcus Clarke: An Annotated Bibliography (q.v.) proposes a relationship between Moustique and The Lady of the Lake (q.v.), a parody of Sir Walter Scott written and possibly staged as early as 1864 (see p122). However, both stories clearly follow different narrative paths and contain different characters suggesting little or no connection [see Marcus Clarke Papers, Mitchell Library - MS C270]. McLaren also erroneously states that Henri Kowalski wrote the music for the burlesque. The chief problem here is that Kowalski did not arrive in this country until 1880.
2. The second issue, again relating to McLaren's bibliography is the tenuous link between Moustique and A Daughter of Eve (q.v.), which was staged in Ballarat and Castlemaine in July 1880 under the alternate title A Lesson in Love. McLaren's suggestion that the work is 'possibly the second act of Queen Venus' (p123), may well be the result of his misreading the relevant section in Brian Elliott's (q.v.) biography of Clarke (see p231). This error has subsequently been repeated in other publications, the Annotated Calendar of Plays Premiered in Australia: 1870-1890 (q.v.), for example. An analysis of Moustique's plot as reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald (2 July 1889, p3) and the published version of A Daughter of Eve, indicates, however, that the settings, characters and themes are different in both works, and hence it is extremely unlikely that they are related.