Resembling 'one of the burlesques of 50 years ago brought up to date, with better music and more modern allusions' (Sydney Morning Herald 30 Apr. 1906, p4), the dramatic action revolves around romance set amidst an exotic background of Arabs, Nubian slaves and rogues. The story begins with the capture of Princess Hashma by La Zara and her brigands and her rescue at the hands of the dashing Prince Omar. Later, whilst recovering from the wounds he received in the battle, the prince sends his steward Gastro as his ambassador to the princess's family to arrange a love match. Gastro assumes his master's identity, however, and aspires to the hand of the princess. Described as an 'over-dressed little wretch, timid and impudent,' the steward is not only already engaged to one woman, Mena, but also finds himself with a third love interest - La Zara. This situation is said to have provided a number of comedic interplays. Vaudeville-style entertainment was also incorporated into the 1906 Sydney production through the presence of the Bovis brothers who presented a skit burlesquing melodrama.
Songs known to have been written for A Moorish Maid are : 'Only Myself to Blame' (Gastro) ; 'A Little Moorish Maid' (Mena) ; 'I've Travelled' (patter song, Gideon Gay) ; 'Gay Paree' (duet, Marie and Gastro) ; 'Loverland' and 'See O'er the Mountains' (La Zara) ; 'Come to the Brigands' Retreat' (Prince Omar) ; 'A Brigand Am I' (Elferino); 'Moorish Carnet Dance and Chorus' (Princess Hashma and chorus) ; and the 'Ly Ly' chorus. A review of the 1910 revival also mentions Princess Hashma's solo song, 'I am Thy Captive.'
The libretto by J. Youlin Birch, a theatre critic for the New Zealand Herald, was roundly criticised by the Sydney Morning Herald, which suggested that 'degenerated public taste, rather than any deliberate intention on the part of ... Mr Birch... must be held responsible for the form in which Alfred Hill's new opera won success.' The review went on to note that since it premiered in New Zealand the libretto had been 'reformed with an asses head' and that Hills score was considerably lower in standard than his previously successful opera Tapu (30 April 1906, p4). The Theatre Magazine, while less vitriolic in its criticism, also drew attention to what it called 'a rather disjointed story... so interspersed with jokes (many of them of doubtful years) and variety turns that the best part of the libretto serves now only as a medium for introducing green comedians who do the rest.' Concerning the score, the critic suggested that while 'always bright and tuneful... it is in a very different vein from the author's Taper [sic] and Lady Dolly' (May 1906, p19).
The critics from both the Herald and the Theatre did agree, however, that A Moorish Maid satisfied the public's expectations, with the latter magazine proposing, for example : The general effect of the venture is a good evening's amusement as testified by the volumes of laughter and applause... by an audience which packed the theatre in every part' (May 1906, p19). The Sydney Morning Herald critic suggested that Hill had 'written to please the general ear with light and graceful themes, and only once, in a splendid aria for La Zara, does he rise to the full height of his powers, though at time his dainty employment of Eastern colouring reminds the audience of the original scope of the work... the patter-songs and comic numbers possess a more distinctive vein of melody than is usual in pieces of this kind' (30 April 1906, p4).
Hill revived the operetta in New Zealand in 1907, with comedian Fred H. Graham helping to produce it. Three years later Hill inserted some new ensemble numbers into the work and conducted the orchestra for its 1910 Christmas revival. Some additional material for this revival was supplied by writer/librettist, David Souter. Although essentially an amateur production, Hill was able to engage four professionals to take on major roles, with Madame Slapoffski as La Zara, Arthur Appleby as Prince Omar and Tom Cannam as Gastro and emerging actress, Marcia Boulais (who revived her role as Mena for the 1913 Repertory Theatre season).
On 23 January 1913 a private performance, to an audience of some 150 people, was presented at the White Room of the Savoy Hotel by Alfred Hill's representative, Mr Cunningham Bridgeman. Members of the audience included the High Commissioner of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward, Lady Ward, and Lady Plunkett.
Within a month of the Savoy Theatre performance advertisements began appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald (ca. February/March) calling for amateur actors and singers to take part in a production of the comic opera under the auspices of the City Operatic Society, a joint venture between the Austral Operatic Society and the City of Sydney Musical Comedy Company (see 15 Feb. 1913, p2; and 3 March 1913, p3, for example). A production was eventually staged by the Repertory Theatre Society at their newly renovated Sydney theatre in Grosvenor Street, with Alfred Hill acting as both producer and conductor. Involving some 75 or more performers, the revival was part of a series of fund-raising activities organised to get the venue up and running as a permanent operation. The advisory board for the Repertory Theatre Company included Arthur H. Adams, David H. Souter and Alfred Hill.
In a March 1914 Theatre Magazine interview Hill drew attention to the insufficient financial rewards for Australian composers, and the problems relating to poor libretti, matters he experienced first hand with his operas Tapu and A Moorish Maid: 'There is no money in writing music, absolutely none,' complained Hill. 'What have I made out of my compositions? I received £100 from the late J. C. Williamson for the producing rights and half the music rights of Tapu. As you know, the opera didn't succeed. Mr Williamson had always faith in the music, but he couldn't get a satisfactory libretto. The Moorish Maid also suffered from a bad book and even as it was we took £1000 in a week with it in Auckland, and it did the same thing in Wellington.... Apart from the little I got out of this, and the straight-out fee I received for Tapu composition has brought me nothing' (qtd. in Andrew McCreadie 'Some Backgrounds,' p.196).
1905 : His Majesty's Theatre, Auckland (New Zealand) ; 26 June - ca. July. Dir. Fred Graham ; Cond. Alfred Hill. - Cast incl. Fred Graham (Gastro), Lillian Tree (La Zara), Miss Dent, Marion Mitchell (Mena), Sissy Sandford, Archdale Taylor, Hamilton Hodges.
1906 : Palace Theatre, Sydney ; 28 April - 5 May. Dir/Prod. George Stephenson ; Cond. Alfred Hill. - Troupe: George Stephenson's English Musical Comedy Company. - Cast incl. Rosina Buckmann (La Zara, chiefainess of the Ruffians), Charles Albert (Prince Omar), Edward Lauri (Gastro), May Garstang (Mena), Charles McNaughton (Gideon Gay, The Divorcer General), Mabelle Morgan (Princess Hashma), Roland Watts-Phillips (Zuleika), Harold Reeves (Elferino, Lieutenant of the Ruffians), Charles Bovis (Heavy Leed), William Bovis (Freddy Buff), May Beattie (Marie).
1907 : His Majesty's Theatre, Dunedin (New Zealand) ; 5-14 December. Dir. Fred H. Graham; Cond. Alfred Hill. - Cast incl. Rosina Buckman.
1910 : Royal Standard Theatre, Sydney ; 26 December 1910 - ca. January 1911. Dir/Chor. Ruby Hooper ; Cond. Alfred Hill ; Orch Ldr. Cyril Monk; Scenic Art Leader Williams. - Cast incl. Madame Slapoffski (La Zara), Arthur Appleby (Prince Omar), F. Oakden Brookes (Elferino, Tom Cannam (Gastro), Marcia Boulais (Mena), Sidney Price (Alli Mehemet), Zara Wolinski (Princess Hushma), Vivian Ross-Brown (Zulieka), Ruby Guest (May), Clarice Buckman (Theta), Valette Sydney (dancer).
1913 : White Room, Savoy Hotel, London (England) ; 23 January (private performance as Queen of the Riffs) - Cast incl. Rosina Buckman.
1913 : Repertory Theatre, Sydney ; 18-28 July. Cond. Alfred Hill ; Prod. Repertory Theatre Society ; Orch Ldr. Julia Moran ; Chor/Dir. Ruby Hooper; Scenic Art Leslie Williams ; Mngr. Downes Johnstone. - Cast incl. Muriel Barton (La Zara), Frederick Asmussen (Prince Omar), Vivien Ross-Browne (Zulieka), Marcia Boulais (Mena), Jack Walsh (Gastro), Sydney Van Gilder (Ali Mehermet), F. Oswald Aarons (Elferino), Kathleen O'Brien (Princess Hushma), Eva Pitt (May).
This entry has been sourced from on-going historical research into Australian-written music theatre being conducted by Dr Clay Djubal.