THE ROSE OF PERSIA
or The Story-Teller and the Slave
A comic opera in two acts; libretto by Basil Hood; inspired by the tale of Abu Hassan, or The Sleeper Awakened from the Arabian Nights. Music by Arthur Sullivan. Produced at the Savoy Theatre, London, 29 November 1899: Produced at Daly's Theatre, New York, 6 September 1900 (25 perfs)
Abu-el-Hassan has a fine house in the best part of town, apparently unlimited cash resources, and everything such resources can buy as well as a respectable complement of mostly attractive wives, yet he shuns the friendship of fashionable persons and prefers to spend time and money with and on the professional have-nots of the town
Some of the less wholly loyal of his wives are starting to express a doubt or two on his sanity, but Hassan has no such doubts. After all, although he could afford twice as many wives as he has, he has purposely limited himself to twenty-five: twice as many would just be twice the trouble. His chief wife, the dragonistic Dancing Sunbeam, is in no doubt as to her husband's feeble-mindedness. The very fact that he will not use his riches to win himself - and her - an exalted social position is proof enough of madness. For his own reasons Abdallah is planning, with tacit state support, to exorcise the madness from the wealthy philanthropist with the aid of some religiously approved and grotesque physical tortures. Abdallah's intentions reverse when Hassan announces that he has made his will in Abdallah's favour. If Hassan is proved mad the will would, of course, be invalid.
The priest is now interested in arranging a sudden demise for Hassan rather than a simple committal, a solution which certainly wouldn't displease Dancing Sunbeam who sees her husband's fortune as 'The Golden Key' to high society.. Blush-of-Morning, an altogether more sympathetic wife, is quite depressed by the talk of impending widowhood but Abdallah and Dancing Sunbeam assure her that it is a condition which soon passes.
This evening Yussuf, a travelling story-teller, brings to Hassan's home a group of veiled ladies who claim to be a displaced group of dancing girls. The street-wise Yussuf suspects they are really royal slaves who have sneaked out in disguise for a night on the town. He assures them that Hassan will give them hospitality until the Sultan and his guards are safely off-guard and they can return to the Palace. The truth, however, is that one of the company is actually the Sultana, Rose-in-Bloom, herself making a most improper and indeed illegal foray outside the harem.
Having committed herself to this rash adventure, she is now not at all sure that her daring was a good idea. Back in the Palace the world outside seemed so tempting. Her impatience to escape into the real world felt to her like the yearnings of a girl waiting for her love
Hassan returns to his home, bringing with him the beggars and fake cripples who profit from his open-handedness. He explains how he won his fortunes by dint of some very Victorian confidence tricks. The evening's revelry begins with wine all round. The visiting 'dancing girls' are then prevailed upon to contribute an exhibition of their talents to the entertainment, but consternation reigns when Abdallah arrives with a party of bribed policemen. The beggars escape with practised speed and Abdallah, claiming a royal warrant, arrests instead the 'dancing girls'.
The intrepid slave girl Heart's-Desire attempts to draw attention from her mistress by displaying the royal signet ring before the priest and claiming to be the Sultana, but the plan backfires. Abdallah gleefully informs Hassan that the penalty for consorting with the Sultana is some kind of execution. Dancing Sunbeam, hearing of this alienation of what she considers her wordly goods, is livid.
Hassan accepts his fate with an amazing equanimity which is not shared by the girls. He then tells them his secret. His happy-go-lucky nature is due to a life of confirmed drug-taking. He is a bhang addict, floating through life on rosy, drug-induced cloud of unreality.
Rose-in-Bloom, however, is not the only member of the royal family out doing a little slumming. The Sultan, his Vizier, his Physician and his Executioner arrive at Hassan's home dressed as dervishes. Hassan, by now under the influence of drugs, claims himself to be not only the Sultan's equal but the Sultan himself. The real monarch resolves to play a trick on him, and orders that he be transported to the royal palace.
Next morning in the audience hall of the Sultan's palace Heart's-Desire is swapping sweet somethings with Yussuf. The lovesick story-teller announces his intention to ask the Sultan for the slave-girl's hand, but the other girls point out that he cannot. If it is found out how the two of them met, it would render them all liable to one of the Executioner's more terminal forms of punishment.
The Sultan enters and tells his entourage that
he has decided to put Hassan to a test. Hassan shall be led to
believe that he really is Sultan and that his life to date has
been nothing but a dream.
The Vizier, the Physician and the Executioner are ordered to transfer their grovelling and prostrating to the 'new' Sultan. In his new persona as non-Sultan he takes the opportunity to flirt democratically with the infuriated Executioner's lady friend.
Dancing Sunbeam arrives, indignantly claiming that if her husband is Sultan then she - it goes without saying-is Sultana. The real Sultan is amused by this new extension to his joke, but when the news gets to Rose-in-Bloom that there is another lady in the palace calling herself Sultana she assumes ruse has been discovered and that she has been deposed. She is in the middle of begging effusive pardon when she discovers the truth and she has to do some fast backtracking to cover her error.
In accordance with the Sultan's decree, Hassan set on the throne. He wakes incredulously to find the whole court greeting him with royal honours. The day's petitioners are brought before him. The first is Yussuf who asks for the hand of a royal handmaiden. Then comes Abdallah who discloses the injudicious visit of the Sultana to Hassan's house. At this disclosure the real Sultan drops his masquerade. If the Sultana favours low company then let her be married off to this story-teller who seems to be anxious to have a wife. As for the rest of the miscreants, behead them!
Yussuf is distraught; he has no wish to wed Rose-in-Bloom and Heart's-Desire is upset at such an unforeseen turn of events. Fate takes another turn, and the instrument of fate is Dancing Sunbeam. She has impeccable hearing and wants to know what ceremony the Sultana is to attend? She and she alone is the Sultana. So, heavily veiled, Dancing Sunbeam goes to the divorce ceremony and is divorced from her husband and wed to Yussuf.
Heart's-Desire finally manages to speak to the Sultan and explains that all this business is an awful mistake. It was she, she claims, wearing the Sultana's ring who was seen at Hassan's house; she was hearing from him a wonderful story which she was retelling to her mistress. The Sultan demands to know if the story has a happy ending. If so, he will hear it himself - but it must have a happy ending. Everyone tries frantically to think of a story fascinating enough to beguile the Sultan but nothing they can come up with seems to have the necessary ingredients.
Time is getting short but, as the Sultan positions himself for the recital inspiration strikes Hassan and he confidently begins his story. It is the story of his life and, since it has been royally decreed that it must have a happy ending, he submits, the Sultan is obliged to rescind the execution orders. The Sultan confesses himself tricked and agrees that everyone must be pardoned, but he wins the last word for, as the curtain falls, he restores Hassan not only to his former wealth and position but also to the perpetual care of his number one wife, Dancing Sunbeam.
- As We Lie in Languor Lazy (Opening Chorus) - Chorus of Girls
- I'm Abu-el-Hassan (Song) - Hassan
- When Islam First Arose (Song) - Abdallah, Chorus of Girls
- Dancing Sunbeam' (Song) - Dancing Sunbeam
- If a Sudden Stroke of Fate (Trio) - Blush-of-the-Morning, Dancing Sunbeam, Abdallah
- If You Ask Me to Advise You (Trio) - Sultana Zubedyeh, Scent-of-Lilies, Heart's Desire
- 'Neath My Lattice (Song) - Sultana Zubedyeh
- Tramps and Scamps - Chorus
- When My Father Sent Me to Ispahan (Song) - Hassan, Chorus
- I Care Not If the Cup I Hold (Song) - Yussuf, Chorus
- Mystical Maidens Are We (Ensemble with Dance and Chorus) - Sultana Zubedyeh, Scent-of-Lilies, Heart's Desire, Honey-of-Life, Hassan, Chorus
- We Have Come to Invade - Abdallah, Hassan
- What Will Become of Me? (Octette) - Hassan, Dancing Sunbeam, Oasis-in-the-Desert, Moon-upon-the-Water, Song-of-the-Nightingale, N. Meissener, Blush-of-the-Morning, Wives
- I'm the Sultan's Vigilant Vizier (Dervish Quartet) - Grand Vizier, Physician-in-Chief, Executioner, Sultan Mahmoud
- Finale (Oh, luckless hour!)
- Oh, What Is Love? (Song) - Heart's Desire, Yussuf
- If You or I Should Tell the Truth (Quartet) - Scent-of-Lilies, Honey-of-Life, Heart's Desire, Yussuf
- From Morning Prayer to Sultan - Grand Vizier, Physician-in-Chief, Executioner, Chorus
- Let a Satirist Enumerate a Catalogue of Crimes (Song and Chorus) - Sultan Mahmoud
- In My Heart of Hearts I've Always Known (Septette) - Dancing Sunbeam, Blush-of-the-Morning, Honey-of-Life, Song-of-the-Nightingale, Sultan Mahmoud, Grand Vizier, Physician-in-Chief
- Suppose-I Say, Suppose (Duet) - Sultana Zubedyeh, Sultan Mahmoud
- Laughing Low, on Tip-toe - Chorus
- Where Am I? - Hassan, Grand Vizier, Physician-in-Chief, Chorus
- It's a Busy Day (Quintet and Chorus) - Scent-of-Lilies, Executioner, Yussuf, Heart's Desire, Hassan
- Our Tale Is Told (Song) - Yussuf
- What Does It Mean? (Recitative and Quartet) - Dancing Sunbeam, Blush-of-the-Morning, Yussuf, A Soldier of the Guard
- It Has Reached Me a Lady Named Hubbard (Septette) - Dancing Sunbeam, Scent-of-Lilies, Yussuf, Hassan, Others
- Hassan, the Sultan with His Court Approaches - Grand Vizier, Physician-in-Chief, Executioner, Chorus
- There Once Was a Small Street Arab (Song) - Hassan
Cast of Characters
The Sultan Mahmoud of Persia
Abu-el-Hassan, a philanthropist
Yussuf, a professional story-teller
Abdallah, a priest
The Grand Vizier
The Royal Executioner
The Sultana Zubeydeh (Rose-in-Bloom)
Dancing Sunbeam, Hassan's first wife
Blush-of-Morning, his twenty-fifth wife
Heart's Desire, Honey-of-Life, Scent-of-Lilies, the Sultana's favourite slaves
Oasis-in-the-Desert, Moon-upon-the-Waters, Song-of-Nightingales, Whisper-of-the-West-Wind, wives of Hassan, etc.
Chorus, Act 1: Hassan's Wives, Mendicants,
and Sultan's Guards.
Chorus, Act 2: Royal Slave-Girls, Palace Officials, Guards.
Scenes and Settings:
Act 1: Court of Hassan's house.
Act 2: Audience Hall of Sultan's Palace.