Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE DAUGHTERS OF MOHAMED

Most of the works discussed to late have been more musical comedy than anything else; it's almost disingenuous to call something like OH DOCTOR! an operetta when what it really is is low-rent musical. However, just as these little works had their musical comedy side, every now and then something comes along that reinforces their opera side, like THE DAUGHTERS OF MOHAMED (1926).

Written by the sister team of Hazel and Berta Cobb, the work is, as the cover notes, "especially suitable for high schools". And like most operas, it has a pretty thin plotline that serves only as an excuse only to hang the arias and ensemble numbers. We're in Granada, during the time of the Moors. The script doesnt say specifically, but this would place it somewhere in the 15th century, around the time of the Muslim leaders Mohamed IV through Mohamed X. The Cobbs dont say which Mohamed is theirs. In light of the ending, I'm guessing Mohamed X, but it probably doesnt matter that much. What *does* matter is that *this* Mohamed, on the advice of his astrologers, has taken it upon himself to lock away his three daughters, Zayda, Zorayda, and Zoraheyda (I gather they're triplets) and place them in the care of the old duenna Kadiga (who has a secret). After a particularly ostentatious overture (sort of low rent Tiomkin), marked with martial eighth-note triplets followed by blaring half-notes, we're taken to a heavily walled garden somewhere in Granada. It's the morning of the princesses' eighteenth birthday, and Kadiga sends the king an enigmatic message that ultimately says it's "okay, bud, it's time for you to step up and start acting like a father, got it?"

But before the birthday celebrations can begin in earnest, things are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Hussein Baba, the prison guard, and three Spanish cavaliers (known only as Red, Blue, and Green), who see the three princesses and immediately fall in love.

Now, let's sort out our couples, because that becomes important. Zayda is with Red, Zorayda with Green, and Zoraheyda with Blue. Is that right? I need to check this because the girls' names are so interchangable and the boys' so... well, non-existant that... yep, got it right. Okay, so here we have our three lovely maidens and our three dusty (and somewhat anonymous) Spanish soldiers, who promptly get dragged away after they sing their lovely little song to Kadiga, even though it's meant for Zayda and Zor -- well, you get the idea.

Once they're gone, the girls are beside themselves with curiosity: these are apparently the first men they've ever seen aside who might actually be husband material. Kadiga tells them, in essence, "Look, they're probably have girlfriends back home. Forget it." The girls are all upset about this possibility when Mohamed comes to retrieve his family:

The faithful all adore me
Captive tremble at my word

My vassals bow before me

The foeman flees before my sword.


No ego issues with this guy, huh. He tells the three that they're moving to the palace. In return, they show their thanks by saying:

Since we are no longer children, shall we not have dresses and jewels as befit a princess, father? Think of it, sisters: necklaces and bracelets, and perhaps crowns! Indeed, father, let us go at once!

Just give these girls a credit card, and they'll live *anywhere*.

Ah, but life in the palace isnt what it was advertised to be, as they quickly find out: at the top of Act Two, the first line:

Does it seem to you, sisters, that our condition has in any way been bettered by our removal to this place? What could our father's purpose have been in removing us from one prison to another? Indeed I am more wearied of the view from yonder window than ever I was at those of our former residence. And in addition to the burden of utter weariness, I suffer from the bitterness of disappointment, for I thought surely when we were brought to our father's palace we should see something of the gayness of the court and hear something of the occurances of the kingdom? What pleasure can we take in these dresses or these jewels or indeed in our own faces when nobody ever sees us? Is it not a hard lot to be born unusually interesting and then be forced into an existence like this?

Whine, whine, whine. Kadiga tries to cheer them up by reminding them of the multi-coloured cavaliers who have been amazing the prison guards with their talents at singing and playing the guitar. And the three princesses do their gosh-darn best not to seem interested:

Perhaps you could manage to procure us a sight of these cavaliers. I think a little music would be reviving.

Reviving, indeed. But even when Kadiga tells them that the cavaliers are "enemies of our faith, and you must not even think of them but with abhorence", they counter by saying "Though we abhore their religion, we should adore their singing. *You* enjoyed hearing them, and nobody is a truer Moslen than you are." Well, Kadiga agrees to set something up, then, in a soliloquy, frets:

Am I to blame that the maidens have seen the youths? Can I keep the youths from being Spaniards and Christians? Truly, as scrupulous a Moslem as I am, I find it hard to keep my own heart other than Christian -- Allah preserve me!

She approaches Mohamed and tells him the girls are bored. He's shocked -- hasnt he given them everything? -- but Kadiga presses the issue by saying that maybe they just need a little diversion. So Dad, who fails to get the subtle point made by the duenna, arranges a series of entertainments: sword dancers, a singer, a magician, even a dancer named Algedona who, we assume, is there more for the king's enjoyment than his daughters'. Kadiga then conveniently brings in the three cavaliers, who sing a little for the king (and a lot more for the princesses). They're taken away, the king (satisfied that his daughters arent *quite* so bored now) leaves, and the three girls profusely thank Kadiga for arranging this little charade.

She, of course, gets all righteously upset, to the point where she tells them she's going to arrange *immediately* for the prisoners to be punished for their audacious behavior. But it seems that not everything is as it appears: she's been setting this whole thing up and now she's feeling guilty about it -- and not just a little guilty. A lot guilty, because the prisoners also asked her aid in helping them to take the girls away to Cordova to be their wives. And not only that, but she's arranged the horses and for the guards to turn a blind eye to whole thing. And not only that, but... but... she's a Christian!

And so's Hussein Baba!

I wonder if anyone in this court is Moslem, to tell the truth.

Well, in Act Three, it's shortly before dawn, and the moment of escape has arrived. Kadiga, Hussein, and the three cavaliers are all there, ready to go. So are Zayda and Zorayda, but Zorahayda cant abandon her father.

Arrgghh. Lady, look, he shut you up in a prison for eighteen years, then moves you to another one, and you're willing to stay home just because you have codependency issues? Well, no one said operetta heroines were especially bright. Anyway, Blue says, fine, whatever, sings a little goodbye song, and everyone leaves...

... but not for long. Seems someone tipped off the *non-blind-eye* guards, and everyone's been arrested -- and Dad is just furious! He's about to have the Spaniards executed on the spot, when the three daughters intercede. Dad inexplicably relents (maybe he's remembering what a greedy, picky handful they were in Act Two?), and everyone rushes to the... church? or the mosque? to get married.

I dunno about you, but I see serious trouble ahead...

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