By Bob Bernard
Early in the 1970 film Patton, George C. Scott – while reviewing troops in the Kingdom of Morocco – admiringly described the country: “It’s a combination of the Bible … and Hollywood!”
Enticed by the Mozartian combination of adventure, comedy, romance and music (all in an exotic environ) in Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), Paramount Pictures produced the 1942 film The Road to Morocco, cheerfully “abducting” the core of the opera’s narrative into the third of what was to eventually become a series of seven comedic “Road Pictures."
Each of the principal operatic characters has their respective analogue in the movie:
- Belmonte = Bing Crosby as Jeff Peters
- Konstanze = Dorothy Lamour as Princess Shalmar
- Blonde = Dona Drake as Mihirmah
- Pedrillo = Bob Hope as Orville Jackson
- Osmin = Anthony Quinn as Mullay Kasim
The opening of both opera and film involve an approach by sea.
Left to right: Belmonte in the opera, Jeff and Orville in the film
In the film, Jeff and Orville transfer from their shipwreck to a "ship of the desert."
However, experts in the field of vertebrate habitat correlation have taken issue with the above photo image. They maintain that this is the wrong kind of camel! What Jeff and Orville are riding is a Bactrian camel or dromedary, with brown tufts of hair and two humps. The Moroccan and Middle Eastern camel has a single hump and no tufts of darker hair.
In the opera, Pedrillo adapts to life in the seraglio by working as a servant in Pasha Selim’s palace. In the film, Orville adapts to life in the harem by means of intense study.
Osmin, the overseer for the opera’s Pasha Selim, has a temperament composed of roughly equal parts Homer Simpson and Archie Bunker. In the opera, Kurt Rydl’s Osmin threatens Belmonte. In the film, Anthony Quinn – still in his salad days as an actor, but certainly menacing as Mullay Kasim - ominously browbeats Orville.
Left to right: Kurt Rydl’s Osmin and Rainer Trost’s Belmonte, Anthony Quinn and Bob Hope
Classic film buffs later saw Quinn in the most dramatic of all “Road Pictures,” as Zampano in Fellini’s 1954 La Strada.
Squabbles aside, love manifests itself in both the opera and film - Belmonte and Konstanze; Princess Shalmar and Jeff.
Left to right: Rainer Trost and Eva Mei, while moonlight becomes Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby
Egress from both the seraglio and harem are finally accomplished joyfully while shipboard.
Left to right: Mehrzad Montazeri, Patrizia Ciofi, Eva Mei and Rainer Trost; Crosby, Lamour, Drake and Hope
The opera and film each contains an enduring musical refrain:
From the film: Sung during the camel scene, Jeff and Orville extemporize around “Like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.” This is a pun, referring to an expensive book binding that has been made from goatskin and dyed in strong colors.
From the opera: Sung by Belmonte, Konstanze, Pedrillo and Blonde at opera’s end in appreciation of Pasha Selim’s spontaneous act of kindness towards them.
“Wer so viel Huld vergessen kann, [Anyone who could forget such graciousness]
Den seh’ man mit Verachtung an” [should be regarded with contempt]
"Amen" to all that.
NOTE: Photo images from the opera were all excerpted from a film of the 2002 performance at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence.