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JJ Anyone want to discuss The Desert Song? (118* d) RE: Anyone want to discuss The Desert Song? 20 May 12

Your teacher was right. Orientalism on stage goes back as least as far as Mozart's "Abduction From the Seraglio" (libretto by Bretzner and Stephanie).

But I think the proximate cause of "The Desert Song" is Edith Maude Hull's 1919 novel "The Sheik," and the immensely popular 1921 Rudolph Valentino film based on it. And in the novel, the Arab sheik turns out to be not an Arab at all, but of Spanish and English descent. Hurrah!

Like many works, "The Desert Song" will not bear very much analysis. For one thing, how did Paul manage to get to be the big boss of the Riffs in the first place? But it can be an enjoyable romance, even in these ironic times. You might be able to find the script in a local library, as I did.

It's my belief that Hammerstein's creation of Azuri, the emotional Arab; Wanda, the murderous Indian (in "Rose-Marie"); and Adah, the loving quadroon (in "The New Moon") -- these three women who are "the other" -- led Jerome Kern to choose him to write the book and lyrics for "Show Boat," which features the "tragic mulatto" Julie, a character much more real than either of the first three.

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