Thistledown is almost too heavy as metaphor for the lightness of this little piece, but in its day the charming arias and pantomime-like plot earned it enormous success. Sidney Jones, the composer, had a long career at the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century as one of Britains most popular light composers, and The Geisha, first put on in London in April 1896 at Dalys Theatre, Leicester Square, with Marie (later Dame Marie) Tempest, enjoyed such a success that it ran for 760 performances then went to Broadway in September of the same year, where it ran for 161 performances. It went all round Europe too, becoming part of standard operetta repertoire in Germany, Austria and Hungary, and even enjoyed a discreet success in Italy, where, at the Teatro Valle in Rome, the then 6-year old Eduardo de Filippo, debuted as a boy. It is now largely forgotten, as are almost all Japan-inspired works produced in those decades when Japponnaiserie was the rage, apart from The Mikado and Madama Butterfly.
At the Teatro Brancaccio in Rome the ingenious performance is with puppets, and produced by the masterly Idalberto Fei. The theatre has a main central stage, with two alcoves on each side, perfect for offstage asides; once the ear has attuned to the recorded music and the small-scale action, this is all that is required for the enjoyment of anything so delightful and insubstantial.
It is also excellent value, as the performance is included in the normal ticket to the museum (4, 2 reduced, free up to 18 years), and provides a good opportunity to see one of Romes least-known specialist museums, rather limited in scope, but with some outstanding pieces, particularly of Chinese celadon. La Geisha lasts about one and half hours.
Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale (Palazzo Brancaccio), Via Merulana 248 Rome. Tel. For information and booking Gabriella Tomassetti 333 / 3462987
Further performances 4 February (11.00), 5 February (17.00), 11 February (11.00), 12, February (17.00), 18 February (11.00), 19 February (17.00), 25 February (11.00) and 26 February (17.00)