The Desert Song


THE DESERT SONG is an operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel. It was inspired by the 1925 uprising of the Riffs, a group of Moroccan fighters, against French colonial rule.

Photos by Paul McKay, courtesy of College Light Opera Company, Falmouth, MA
Music samples provided courtesy of Decca Broadway and Warner Bros. Music

  • Synopsis
  • Credits
  • Orchestration
  • Materials
  • Cast
  • History
  • Upcoming
  • French General Birabeau has been sent to Morocco to root out and destroy the Riffs, a band of Arab rebels, who threaten the safety of the French outpost in the Moroccan desert. Their dashing, daredevil leader is the mysterious “Red Shadow”, a Frenchman. The Red Shadow, his Arab lieutenant, Sid El Kar, and their wealthy host, Ali Ben Ali, discuss the relative merits of the Eastern tradition of love for a harem of women (like having a garden full of fragrant flowers), and the Western ideal of loving one woman for life. Margot Bonvalet, a lovely, sassy French girl, is soon to be married at the French fort to Birabeau’s right-hand man, Captain Fontaine. Birabeau’s son Pierre, in reality the Red Shadow, loves Margot, but pretends to be a milksop to preserve his secret identity. Meanwhile Benny, a reporter, and the girl who loves him, Susan, provide comic relief.

    Margot tells Pierre that she secretly yearns to be swept into the arms of some bold, dashing sheik, perhaps even the Red Shadow himself. Pierre, as the Red Shadow, kidnaps Margot and declares his love for her. To her surprise, Margot’s mysterious abductor treats her with every western consideration. Benny and Susan are captured too. When the Red Shadow comes face to face with General Birabeau, the old man challenges the rebel leader to a duel. Of course Pierre will not kill his own father, so he refuses to fight, losing the respect of the Riffs. Azuri, the sinuous and secretive native dancing girl, who knows the secret of the Red Shadow’s true identity, might be persuaded to reveal the information if she could capture the attention of Captain Fontaine. Eventually, the Red Shadow’s identity is discovered, a deal is struck with the Riffs, and Pierre and Margot live happily ever after.

    Book and Lyrics by Otto Harbach,
    Oscar Hammerstein, 2nd and Frank Mandel
    Music by Sigmund Romberg

    Such credits to the authors for all purposes shall be in type size equal to or greater than that of any other credits except for that of the star(s) above the title. In the programs, the credits shall appear on the title page thereof.

    The title page of the program shall contain the following announcement in type size at least one-half the size of the authors’ credits:

    is presented by arrangement with
    Tams-Witmark, A Concord Theatricals Company

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  • Full Orchestration

    1 Violin I (stand 1)
    1 Violin I (stand 2)
    1 Violin I (stand 3)
    1 Viola I
    1 Viola II
    1 Cello
    1 Bass

    2 Flute I & II
    1 Oboe / English Horn
    2 Clarinet I & II

    2 Horn I & II
    2 Trumpet I & II
    1 Trombone

    1 Percussion
    1 Harp

    Piano-Conductor’s Score sent with rehearsal material. (There is no Piano in the orchestration.)

  • Rehearsal Materials

    2       Piano/Conductor Scores
    20     Libretto/Vocal Books

  • Sid El Kar – “The Red Shadow’s” Lieutenant
    Neri – An old native woman
    Benjamin Kidd – Former society correspondent of the Paris Herald
    Capt. Paul Fontaine
    Margot Bonvalet – Guest of General Birabeau
    General Birabeau – Governor of a French Moroccan Province
    Pierre Birabeau – His only son
    Susan – His ward
    Ethel – Her friend
    Azuri – Ben Ali’s favorite
    Ali Ben Ali – Caid of a Riff tribe
    Clementine – A Spanish “lady”
    Mindar & Hassi – Leading members of the Red Shadow’s Band
    Sergeant La Vergne – Of the French Foreign Legion
    Sergeant De Boussac – Of the French Foreign Legion

    SATB Chorus, including singers for the parts of Neri, Ethel, Mindar, La Vergne and De Boussac.

  • THE DESERT SONG opened on Broadway, November 30, 1926 at the Casino Theatre and later moved to the Century and Imperial Theatres, playing for a total of 471 performances starring Vivienne Segal and Robert Halliday. The operetta has been revived several times on Broadway, most recently by the New York City Opera in 1987.

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