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Offenbach in Arabien

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Twice, the theatre of Jacques Offenbach exerted a marked influence on musical theatre in Egypt. The first occasion was a number of performances of his most popular opéra-bouffes, in French and by French artists, around 1870. The ruler, Ismā'īl, tried to introduce European culture in Egypt and gave Offenbach's work a central role in that endeavour. With Ismā'īl's decline, that attempt was discontinued. The second appearance occurred in 1920/21. Then, two of the most popular musical comedies of the famous Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwīš had Offenbach's works as their sources. These works were translated into Egyptian Arabic, given an oriental setting and an Egyptian colour, e.g. by having the lyrics written by popular Egyptian poets. The main message of the original pieces—attacking the military and the authorities in general by ridiculing them—was changed by introducing a clear anti-Turkish thrust, thus castigating the aristocracy ruling Egypt at the time of the adaptation and, by implication, the British occupation. Whereas the text of the Egyptian pieces was quite closely inspired by the French originals, the music shows no signs of direct influence by Offenbach—it is vintage Sayyid Darwīš. The article also sheds some light on the musical theatre of the brothers Rahbānī in Lebanon that has not been directly inspired by Offenbach but exhibits a spirit quite close to his and thus lends itself to a comparison.

Affiliations: 1: Bremen

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