Abu Hassan

Abu Hassan: Musical Farce in One Act

Music by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

Libretto by Franz Carl Hiemer (1768-1822)

Translated from German into English by Mark Herman and Ronnie Apter

Volume 7, Issue 2 (Fall 2018)

Abu Hassan (1811), with music by Carl Maria von Weber, is a German Singspiel, that is, a theatrical piece with sung numbers separated by spoken dialogue, similar in structure to an American musical. The musical style is Classical, though the shift to Romanticism in German opera was largely brought about by Weber’s later opera, Der Freischütz, in 1821.

Much of Abu Hassan parallels the actual experiences of its creators. In 1810, Franz Carl Hie­mer, Weber’s friend and accomplice from their frivolous Stutt­gart days, sent Weber an exuberant libretto that paralleled their own constant need to borrow money. In fact, at this time, Weber was actu­ally banished from Würt­temberg under indict­ment for embezzlement. Hiemer based his libretto on the part of the tale of Abū al‑Hasan the Eccentric told by Shahrazād to King Shahryār on the 647th through 653rd nights of the Thousand and One Nights. Hiemer probably worked from the popular European translation by Antoine Galland (1646-1715), who had translated the Nights from Arabic into French early in the eighteenth century. Galland’s version of the story is called Le dormeur éveillé [The Sleeper Awakened].

Weber began by compo­sing the No. 3 Chorus of Creditors, dra­ma­tically character­izing his own Stuttgart tor­mentors. With the composition of the Over­ture in January 1811, the work was finished, except for the No. 4 Duet, added in December 1812, and Fatima’s mock dirge No. 8, added on the occasion of the Dresden revival of the work in March 1823. At the completion of Abu Hassan in 1811, Weber was living in Darmstadt and, as usual, was in debt. He dedicated the work to the Grand Duke of Hesse Ludwig I, who liked it well enough to send Weber the truly princely honorarium of 440 gulden. Thus, this Singspiel saved at least one debtor (if only temporarily) from the stiff‑necked creditors it parodied. Others also liked it, and Abu Hassan quickly became popular throughout Europe. How­ever, contemporary performances have been few and far between, though this English translation has thus far received six productions in the United States and England.

Harun al‑Rashid (764?‑809), the Calif in the story, is a historical figure. A Calif was the secular and religious head of a Moslem state. Harun was Calif of Baghdad from 786 to 809, one of the greatest of the Abbasides, the Calif dynasty which ruled at Baghdad from 750 to 1258, and claimed descent from Abbas, the uncle of Muhammad.

One fact about Abu Hassan, rarely mentioned, is that it is one of the very few nineteenth-century operatic works in which the protagonists are happily married when the curtain rises, remain happily married (mostly) throughout the action, and are still happily married when the curtain comes down.

On sources: This translation of Abu Hassan is based, for the sung lyrics, on the critical edition edited by Joachim Veit (Piano-vocal score, Vol. 8.2 of Carl Maria von Weber, Sämtliche Werke [Complete Works], WeV C. 6a, Mainz: Schott, 2003), and, for the spoken dialogue, on the edition edited by Willy Werner Göttig (Orchestral score, Offen­bach am Main: Seibold­schen Buchdruckerei Werner Dohany, 1925; Republication: 1 Westmead, Farn­bo­rough, Hants., England: Gregg Inter­national Publishers Limited, 1968), in which the dialogue is considerably shortened from that presented by Veit.

On the translation of the sung lyrics: Because the lyrics must be singable to pre-existing music, with suitable rhymes, meter, and singable vowels, the English words sometimes deviate considerably from the literal meaning of the original German text. As sung, there is much verbal repetition, most of which is not indicated in this libretto since the repetitions often make little sense without the music.

On the translation of the spoken dialogue: Spoken dialogue in a musical is often perceived by a contemporary audience as a bridge between musical numbers. It therefore needs to be kept to a minimum, and be much shorter than was customary for Singspiele in Germany in the early nineteenth century. Accordingly, though we began with Göttig’s shortened German version, our English version is somewhat shorter still, and we fully expect stage directors to shorten our dialogue even further.

Göttig’s intersperal of dialogue and music in the No. 3 Chorus of Creditors does not appear to be dramatically viable. Therefore, we have made our own arrangement of alternating dialogue and music for this chorus.

There is a Singspiel tradition, continuing to the present day, that actors with small speaking parts embroider their roles with comic ad‑libs. Though this is not shown in this libretto, our German-English piano-vocal score does show some directions such ad‑libbing might take, by including alternate dialogue ver­sions for the characters Mesrur and Zemrud, in British dialect for Mesrur and in Yiddish dialect for both Mesrur and Zemrud. These alternate dialogues are available on request.

On das Kabinett: In the No. 7 Trio, Fatima locks Omar into das Kabinett. In early nineteenth-century German, Kabinett meant any small private room, but would probably mean “bath­room” to most modern German speakers. We have translated it by the more general word “closet.” As the staging re­quires, the room can be a closet in the contem­porary sense, a bedroom, or a bath­room, and the word “closet” in our text changed accordingly. In the origi­nal New York production of our translation, the cabinet was replaced by a lockable trunk with drawers: “unlock the closet” became “unlatch the locker,” and “door” became “trunk.”

—Mark Herman and Ronnie Apter

 

Mark Herman is a literary translator, technical translator, chemical engineer, playwright, lyricist, musician, and actor. He writes the “Humor and Translation” column for The Chronicle, The Journal of the American Translators Association.

Ronnie Apter is Professor Emerita of English at Central Michigan University (CMU), a published poet, and a translator of poetry. Her awards include the Thomas Wolfe Poetry Award from New York University and the President’s Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity from CMU. Translations by Herman and Apter of works for the musical stage have been performed in the United States, Canada, England, and Scotland, and praised in publications ranging from The New York Times to The [London] Times. They have also translated numerous poems and children’s books, and published articles on translation and on opera. Their own books include Translating For Singing: The Theory, Art and Craft of Translating Lyrics (London: Bloomsbury, 2016); the multi-media (book and compact disk) A Bilingual Edition of the Love Songs of Bernart de Ventadorn in Occitan and English: Sugar and Salt (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1999); and Digging for the Treasure: Translation After Pound (New York, Berne, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Publishing, 1984; paperback reprint, New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987).

 

Abu Hassan was first performed in Munich on 4 June 1811

This English translation was first performed in 1981 and revised in 2017

Singable Translation and Prefatory Material Copyright 1980, 2017 by Mark Herman and Ronnie Apter

Editor’s note: To read the translation alongside the original German text, please refer to this PDF.

 

Abu Hassan

1811

Characters

Abu Hassan, a favorite of the Calif……………………………………………………………………………….. Tenor

Fatima, Abu Hassan’s Wife………………………………………………………………………………………… Soprano

Omar, a money lender……………………………………………………………………………………………………… Bass

The Calif Harun al‑Rashid……………………………………………………………………………….. Speaking Role

Zobeïda, the Calif’s wife…………………………………………………………………………………… Speaking Role

Mesrur, the Calif’s Lord High Chamberlain……………………………………………………. Speaking Role

Zemrud, Zobeïda’s Nurse…………………………………………………………………………………. Speaking Role

Creditors…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Men’s Chorus

Attendants of the Calif and Zobeïda………………………………………………………………… Mixed Chorus

 

Baghdad, about 800 A.D. Abu Hassan’s apartment in the palace complex of the Calif. In the visible main room are two identical divans. On a small table by the right divan are bread and water. On the right side of the main room is a practical door to the apartment. On the left side, there is a practical door to a closet, over which is a grating on which a key is hanging. At the back is a wide window with flower pots and decorative plants.

Scene One

Abu Hassan lies on the right divan. Fatima stands in the middle of the room.

No. 1. Duet: Abu Hassan & Fatima

HASSAN: Fill the flowing bowl with wine,
fill the bowl with flowing wine.

FATIMA: Neither sherry, nor claret.
Alcohol is forbidden by Muhammad.

HASSAN: What is hidden leaves no sign.
Quench my thirst!

FATIMA: A glass of water?

HASSAN: May I first be stricken dead!
Mutton, and a pastry,

FATIMA: Glutton!

HASSAN: (cajoling) something tasty.

FATIMA: Have some bread!

BOTH: What do toil and sweat avail us, when both flesh and spirit fail us?
Man lives not by bread alone;
bread and water, skin and bone!

FATIMA: I will sing a little ditty:
(parodying) “In the rosy fingered dawn…

HASSAN: O Fatima, have some pity!

FATIMA: …let your mouth be filled with song!”

HASSAN: O Fatima, o Fatima, o Fatima!
Fill the flowing bowl with wine, etc.

 

Dialogue

HASSAN: (getting up from the divan) Bread and water! A fabulous feast! What do you propose to do? Sing for our supper?

FATIMA: Most honored lord and husband, there is not one zecchino in the house. You have spent them all on your fabulous feasts.

HASSAN: You never warned me!

FATIMA: A loyal wife doesn’t nag.

HASSAN: You helped me spend it.

FATIMA: A loyal wife share’s her husband’s fortune. Really, Hassan, you deserve to lose the one treasure you may still call yours.

HASSAN: A treasure! (embracing her) Darling Fatima! Run and sell it!

FATIMA: Shame on you! Sell myself?

HASSAN: Oh. You’re the treasure.

FATIMA: Some people long to lay their riches at my feet.

HASSAN: Golden Fatima! Don’t leave them lying limp! —I mean, what wretch would so sully my wife’s honor! —I mean, who is the fine, upstanding fellow who would so royally reward your peccadillos?

FATIMA: Your creditor-in-chief.

HASSAN: Omar? That penny-pincher? Impossible.

FATIMA: Read this! (She pulls a letter out of her reticule and gives it to Hassan.)

HASSAN: (reads) “Beautiful Fatima, my heart burns with love for you. Quench the all-consuming flame that pervades me, my darling, my dearest! All I have is yours,” (aside) and vice versa. (reads again) “I will count myself fortunate should you permit me to kiss the dust of your feet. Omar.”

FATIMA: Well?

HASSAN: And you answered?

FATIMA: That I loathe him, abhor him, detest him, abominate him—

HASSAN: Bravo! And yet—There must be some way to fleece your flame. Our backs are to the wall! We’ve got to raise money. Think!

FATIMA: (after a beat) Nothing.

HASSAN: Nothing?

FATIMA: Nothing.

HASSAN: Aha! I have it.

FATIMA: Well?

HASSAN: Die and you will make me the happiest of men.

FATIMA: Have you gone mad?

HASSAN: You will only pretend to die.

FATIMA: That’s different.

HASSAN: You die. But the plot is complete when I die too. And I, polite to the last, will perish first.

FATIMA: But I don’t understand.

HASSAN: Allow me to finish. I die. Grief-stricken, you go to the Calif’s wife, and she, as is customary, gives you brocade for my winding-sheet and money for my funeral. You come back with your booty, and I, in turn, play widower for our ever-generous Calif.

FATIMA: (tearing at her clothing) Farewell, my poor dead husband! I hope to see you waken to a better life. (She exits right.)

 

Scene Two

HASSAN: (alone) The farce begins!

 

No. 2. Aria: Abu Hassan

HASSAN: Farewell misfortune!
Go tell the world
that Hassan’s poor existence
has been abruptly ended.

I’ll feast on breast of pheasant!
My friends will all be present
at a banquet with singing and dancing!
Entrancing Fatima enchants the company;
a sheathe of satin will gown her,
a plaited wreath of flowers crown her—
all hail the queen, all hail the queen,
the queen of the revelry!
Hey! Eunuch! Cherry wine!
a liquid valentine
bestrewn with purple petals
for lips incarnadine!
Now, lift the glasses high!
To life, to love and leisure,
to pulchritude and pleasure,
I drain this goblet dry!

Now raise your voices, singers!
Musicians, run your fingers
across your gay guitars!
For music leads to concord,
resolving every discord,
and harmony is ours.
Let music banish discord
and harmony be ours!

O Fatima, my beloved,
when guitars are strumming,
I rejoice.
Yet sweeter than the thrumming
is the music of your voice.
Never, never, never
was a lover as extravagant as I.

O my love, it’s you I live for,
and for you alone I die!
O Fatima, my beloved, etc.

The party is ending,
the moon is descending
and daylight advancing.
As eyelids are closing
and others are dozing,
Fatima is dancing.
Fine! Bravo! A triumph!
Fatima comes by,
a gleam in her eye
as she gives me a kiss in triumph,
in triumph she plants a playful kiss.
In triumph, in triumph she kisses my lips!
But, what if my plan is fruitless?
But, what if my plan is fruitless?
fruitless?
I’ll lose no time in dreaming:
I’ll try another scheme.
And satin will gown her,
and flowers will crown her,
admirers surround her!
Bravo! Splendid! What a triumph!

 

Dialogue

Noise is heard from behind the right door.

HASSAN: Who is it?

 

Scene Three

Abu Hassan turns to the door, but before he reaches it, Omar bursts in at the head of a flying wedge of creditors. Hassan recoils. The creditors wave promissory notes at him.

 

No. 3a. Men’s Chorus of Creditors

CHORUS: Gold! Gold! Gold!
No further subterfuges!
Though vilified as scrooges
we have standards to uphold.
Behold: we will not play the stooges
in comic opera mold.
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!

 

Dialogue

HASSAN: (aside) Rude reality intrudes upon my dream.

OMAR: You must know me, Abu Hassan.

HASSAN: It seems you know me.

OMAR: Do you intend to pay us?

HASSAN: Of course. As soon as I have the money.

OMAR: But, as you see, we mean to have our money here and now.

HASSAN: Yes, yes. Only give me half an hour. I am momentarily expecting a sizable sum. My wife has gone to Zobeïda for money, and, as soon as she returns, I myself am going to the Calif.

OMAR: Empty promises. Had the Calif, or his wife, meant to subsidize your extravagances, they would have done so before now. I, for one, am not willing to wait. Gentlemen, are you willing to wait?

 

No. 3b. Men’s Chorus of Creditors

CHORUS: No, no, no!
you promised us a payment!
Pay me, pay me,
your first and foremost claimant,
pay everything you owe!

 

Dialogue

HASSAN: Ah, Omar, this ugly distrust is your true face. I have always known it, but Fatima argues otherwise.

OMAR: (attentive) Fatima? What does Fatima say?

HASSAN: That you are just and generous.

OMAR: Generous. I am—I could be generous.

HASSAN: Then be generous now!

OMAR: Even if I were willing, they want to be paid now.

HASSAN: Fatima entreats you.

OMAR: She does?

HASSAN: Earnestly entreats you.

OMAR: What could I do?

HASSAN: Everything.

OMAR: Ah, in that case, state your needs.

HASSAN: Rescue! Reprieve!

OMAR: Not for you, but for Fatima.

HASSAN: Oh, yes, Fatima.

OMAR: (to the creditors) Gentlemen, I have a proposal to make.

HASSAN: (aside) Take it, you leeches! (to the creditors) Gentlemen, be charitable. Remember, Allah sees your every deed.

OMAR: (to the creditors) If you agree, I will redeem all his debts. All in favor say aye.

 

No. 3c. Men’s Chorus of Creditors, with Omar & Abu Hassan

CHORUS: Aye, aye, aye.

OMAR: (to Hassan)
Does this arrangement please you?

HASSAN: Aye, aye, aye, and you?

OMAR: I say aye.
I’m happy to reprieve you
(aside) in order to deceive you
with her for whom I sigh.

[HASSAN:] (aside, simultaneously with Chorus and Omar) You leeches, Allah sees you,
and though I now appease you,
I’ll pay you by and by:
I’ll drain your pockets dry!
May indigestion squeeze you
and icy showers freeze you
until the day you die!
(to the Creditors) Goodbye!
(aside) May imps of Satan tease you
and torture you and tweeze you
until you crack and cry!
(to the creditors) Allah seize you!

[CHORUS:]

Since Omar will reprieve you,
we now will say goodbye.
We are content to leave you;
we now will say goodbye.

[OMAR:] (to Hassan)

I’m happy to reprieve you,
I shall reprieve you
(aside) in order to deceive you
with her for whom I sigh,
with her for whom I pine and sigh.
She is the one from whom I pine and sigh,
the one for whom I sigh.

Omar and the Creditors exit through the right door. Abu Hassan escorts them off and then returns to the stage.

 

Dialogue

Scene Four

HASSAN: (alone) Praise the Prophet, I’ve eluded those bloodsuckers. What! I, Hassan! languish in prison? I need life, air, movement—

 

Scene Five

Fatima enters, carrying a bag of money and a length of gold brocade.

FATIMA: Felicitations, beloved corpse. How do you propose to spend your funeral fees?

HASSAN: Not wisely but too well! —But first, I must tell you what I did while you were gone.

FATIMA: I can guess.

HASSAN: Hardly. Omar was here.

FATIMA: Oh no!

HASSAN: With the entire swarm of our creditors, each one a true follower of the Profit.

FATIMA: What did you do?

HASSAN: I paid them.

FATIMA: Without money?

HASSAN: Every single one.

FATIMA: By what magic?

HASSAN: I whispered in Omar’s ear, “Fatima entreats you.”

FATIMA: That did it.
HASSAN: The old lecher rose to the bait. He led the whole herd back to his house, and paid off all my debts.

FATIMA: Out of the frying pan, into the fire!

HASSAN: Don’t fret. At the very worst we can always pay him out of the proceeds from our recent undertakings. Now you tell me what happened to you.

FATIMA: Zobeïda heard my great woe long before she saw me. I cried to the heavens, “Abu Hassan is dead! My poor Hassan has perished!” (She starts to cry.)

HASSAN: (crying too) And what did she say?

FATIMA: This was her answer! (Laughing, she presents him with the moneybag.)

HASSAN: Magnificent Fatima, may these be the last tears you shed on my behalf.

 

No. 4. Duet: Abu Hassan & Fatima

HASSAN:

Let me shield you from the tears of sadness,
my beloved loyal wife.
I will share in every sorrow
of your even-tenored life,
I will share in
every sorrow of your life.

FATIMA: Tears renew a wilting love
as rain revives a willow tree,
wakening a true devotion,
ardor, honor and fidelity.

HASSAN: Test this heart!

FATIMA: For what condition?

HASSAN: Jealousy and dark despair!

FATIMA: If a heart denies suspicion,
then a heart is free as air.

BOTH: If a heart denies suspicion,

then a heart is free as air,
free of envy, free of care,
free of caution, unaware.
Careless love take care!

Aflutter with unfailing rapture,
atremble with passion and truth,
embracing, we daily recapture
the ardor of full-blooded youth!

Hassan exits right.

 

Scene Six

Dialogue

FATIMA: (alone) He’d better hurry to the Calif with the news of my death, or Zobeïda will get there first with the news of his death. Oh, Hassan, I love you in spite of your foolishness. I’m glad you’re dead in jest, and not in earnest, for life without you would be dull indeed.

 

No. 5. Aria: Fatima

FATIMA: Would Philomel be unhappy,
uncaged at last and free
to sniff the fragrant roses
and flit from tree to tree?
She glances all around her
and sees the world is wide.
She sings in exultation
her thankfulness and pride.
Rejoicing in her freedom,
she is no longer shy,
but boldly she determines
to spread her wings and fly.
She spreads her wings to fly.

But Abu Hassan, foolish boy,
you are a sweet enslaver!
My darling, you are all my joy;
you give my life its savor.
How tender are the bonds,
the bonds that only death can sever!
How tender are the bonds of love;
I yield to them forever, I yield!
Dearest Hassan, I love you!

 

Scene Seven

Omar cautiously open the right door and peers in. Having convinced himself that Fatima is alone, he enters.

 

Dialogue

OMAR: Excuse me. I am looking for your husband.

FATIMA: He is with the Calif.

OMAR: I will return at a more convenient moment. (He makes as if to exit.)

FATIMA: How is business?

OMAR: (turning back) I would rather not disturb you. (He again makes as if to exit.)

FATIMA: I owe you—every courtesy.

OMAR: (turning back again) I expect nothing from your lips but insults.

FATIMA: You are mistaken, Omar. I wouldn’t purposely insult anyone.

OMAR: Ah. So I thought when I received your reply to my letter. I said to myself, “Fatima wouldn’t purposely insult me. She must be teasing.” Heh, heh, heh! Is it money? Do I read the situation correctly?

FATIMA: You have read my soul.

OMAR: Oh, yes. I can read—

FATIMA: and write—

OMAR: and calculate.

FATIMA: Have you never miscalculated?

OMAR: Never! I always look before I leap.

FATIMA: Alas, my husband always leaps before he looks. If he has gold—

OMAR: He flings it away!

FATIMA: If he has none—

OMAR: He flies into debt!

FATIMA: Come feast—

OMAR: Or famine—

FATIMA: He frolics. Where will I be left in the end?

OMAR: With nothing.

FATIMA: Stripped naked. Omar, I tremble to think of the horde of our creditors.

OMAR: Beautiful Fatima, the horde is dismissed. Only one stands before you, but not as your enemy.

FATIMA: What do you mean?

Omar pulls out of his caftan a small portfolio stuffed with promissory notes and bills.

 

No. 6. Duet: Omar & Fatima

OMAR: I possess a stack of paper,
packed with promise of repayment,
and I mean to take sufficient
satisfaction,
binding action.
Do you understand?
Show me that you understand.

FATIMA: As encroaching debts enslave me,
has a hero come to save me?
Oh, save me! Oh, save me!
for our fate is in your hands!

OMAR: Take my heart!

FATIMA: You do me credit.

OMAR: Know my mind!

FATIMA: I haven’t read it.

OMAR: Count on me!

FATIMA: But figures lie.

OMAR: Be my love!

FATIMA: (feigning embarrassment)
No. Yes. Yes. No. Oh, my!

[OMAR:] (aside, simultaneously with Fatima)
Yes, my plan has been successful,
and the bird is almost caught.
(to her) I am overcome with longing,
and my heart is overwrought.
It goes pitter, pitter, patter.
I am overcome with longing
and my heart is overwrought.
It goes pitter, pitter, patter,
overwrought!

[FATIMA:] (aside)
He believes he is successful,
and the bird is almost caught.
(to him) I cannot conceal the blushes
that reveal my inmost thought.
I cannot conceal my blushes!

OMAR: You love me! You love me!
You cannot deny it!

FATIMA: I love you? I love you?
I love you? Not I!

OMAR: Accept my devoted protection,
and open yourself to affection,
and love me without circumspection.

FATIMA: Affection
without circumspection:
objection!

OMAR: Why are you afraid?
The bills are now due for collection;
I offer a generous trade.

FATIMA:
Allow me some time for reflection.

OMAR: The payment cannot be delayed!
So if you will waive your objection…

FATIMA: …the debts…

OMAR: …are easily paid.

(He steals a kiss from her and puts the IOU’s on the table.)

[FATIMA:] (aside, simultaneously with Omar)
Yes, my plan has been successful,
and the prating bird is caught.
Aging fool, your charms are fading,
and a heart cannot be bought.
Your charms are fading,
and a heart cannot be bought.
Never, never, never,
never can a heart be bought.

[OMAR:] (aside)
Yes, my plan has been successful,
and the pretty bird is caught,
and the pretty little bird is caught.
(to her) I am blinded by your blushes,
and my heart is overwrought,
ever, ever, ever
and forever, I am ever overwrought.
How my Heart is overwrought!
I am ever and forever,
I am ever and forever,
I am ever and forever overwrought!

 

Dialogue

FATIMA: (looking through the window) Oh no!

OMAR: What is it?

FATIMA: What shall we do? It’s my husband!

OMAR: Allah help me!

FATIMA: It’s too late to run! (pointing to the closet) Hide in there!

Omar slips through the left door into the closet. Fatima locks the door behind him and keeps the key.

 

Scene Eight

Abu Hassan enters through the right-hand door. He, like Fatima, has procured a length of brocade and a bag of money.

FATIMA: (aside) Oh ho, you walking bank balance! Your love interest is withdrawn. (aloud, to Hassan) Back so soon, poor widower! (softly) The bird is caught.

HASSAN: (aloud) What bird?

FATIMA: (softly, pointing to the closet) The vulture. (aloud) Did you get the money and the cloth? (pointing to the closet) You have debts to pay.

HASSAN: (softly) Bravo! (aloud) Here they are. (He lays the brocade and moneybag on the table.) (softly) We’ll make him sweat blood! (He goes to the closet door.) (aloud) Why is the closet locked? Where is the key?

FATIMA: (sounding embarrassed) The—key?

HASSAN: Yes, the key! Hand it over!

 

No. 7. Trio: Fatima, Hassan, & Omar

FATIMA: I’ve looked in every nook and cranny.
I’ve looked in every jar and crock.

HASSAN:

That you could lose it is uncanny:
I know the key was in the lock.

OMAR: (appearing at the latticed opening above the cabinet door)
Oh no, he’s certain to unman me,
I will become a laughingstock.

HASSAN: I am a trusting man by nature,
but I am pierced by pangs of doubt!

FATIMA: Before you stands a guiltless creature;
her heart is pure, her soul devout!

[FATIMA & HASSAN:]

(aside, simultaneously with Omar)
He trembles in his trepidation,
and cries in vain for Heaven’s grace.
He can’t escape humiliation,
and will not dare to show his face.

[OMAR:]

I tremble in my trepidation.
Muhammad, I implore your grace.
I turn to you for my salvation:
oh take me from this dreadful place!

HASSAN: What are you hiding?
Is there some treachery under cover?
Unlock the closet!
If I discover you have a lover,
I will unleash my ax
and hack him limb from limb!

FATIMA: This is absurdity!
How can you cast aspersions on me?
Is this some foolery? A bit of comedy?
Aha! I’ve guessed it! You have the key!

HASSAN: Unlock the door or
I will pound it into pulp!

FATIMA: This simply isn’t fair!
I have looked everywhere:
under the carpet, over the cupboard—
I swear—

(She lets the key fall as if by accident.)

HASSAN: (quickly picking it up) Oho!

OMAR: Oh no!

[FATIMA:] (simultaneously with Hassan & Omar)
This is the crisis:
blood will be shed!
Swift is his vengeance:
he’ll strike him dead!
There is no one who can help him;
he swore to have his head!

[HASSAN:] This is the crisis:
blood will be shed!
Swift is my vengeance:
I’ll strike him dead!
There is no one who can help him;
I swore to have his head!

[OMAR:] This is the crisis:
blood will be shed!
Swift is his vengeance:
he’ll strike me dead!
There is no one who can help me;
he swore to have my head!

Omar disappears from the opening above the cabinet door. Toward the end of the trio, Fatima has gone to the window.

 

Dialogue

FATIMA: (anxiously) Mesrur is coming! The Calif must have sent him!

HASSAN: (withdrawing hastily from the still-unopened closet door) Hurry! Lay yourself out on the sofa, feet toward Mecca! (Fatima quickly lies down on the right-hand divan.) —Now I cover you with the brocade. (He does so.) —There! We are ready to receive condolences.

He sits at Fatima’s feet and assumes a sad expression. From time to time he touches a handkerchief to his eyes.

 

Scene Nine

Mesrur enters and stands in the doorway. After a pause, he speaks.

MESRUR: By the all-glorious Prophet! The Calif has won his wager.

HASSAN: (rising and going to face him) I kiss your hands in all humility. (He sighs heavily.)

MESRUR: Unfortunate Abu Hassan.

HASSAN: The poor soul spoke those very words, just before she left me. —Would you like to see her? (He lifts the brocade slightly away from Fatima’s face.)

MESRUR: Spare me the sad sight.

HASSAN: (again covering Fatima) I will soon follow her.

MESRUR: Come, Hassan. There is no need for this excessive lugubricity. There are any number of passable women left.

HASSAN: Didn’t you say something about a bet?

MESRUR: Indeed, yes. When our most gracious Calif informed his wife of Fatima’s death, she insisted you were the deceased party. Our most noble ruler suggested a sizable wager on the identity of the corpse, and Zobeïda accepted. —So, Fatima is no longer with us.

HASSAN: O woe and sorrow! Here she lies.

MESRUR: Bad news for you, good news for the Calif. I hasten to inform our noble sovereign of the glad tidings.

Mesrur rushes out. Hassan escorts him to the door.

 

Scene Ten

FATIMA: (sitting up) Oh Allah! I nearly died laughing! (to Hassan, who is re-entering) Is he gone?

HASSAN: Gone. Flown to the Calif with the happy news.

FATIMA: (irritably, as she gets down from the divan) Happy?

HASSAN: Over the bet.

FATIMA: You still owe me an apology.

HASSAN: I do?

FATIMA: Yes, for your despicable suspicions.

HASSAN: (after reflection) No, I think we should give that subject a rest. We have more pressing problems. Zobeïda will never accept defeat on Mesrur’s word alone. (During this speech he has gone to the window several times. Now he stops in front of it.) O my prophetic soul! Hurry! (He lies down on the left sofa.)

FATIMA: What is it?

HASSAN: Zemrud, Zobeïda’s maid!

FATIMA: Where?

HASSAN: Stop chattering and cover me! (Fatima spreads the brocade over Hassan, lays his turban over his face, and sits beside him.)

FATIMA: Well, where is she? (She listens.) I think I hear her.

 

No. 8. Aria: Fatima

FATIMA: (with caricatured sorrow)
I sob with every gasping breath.
Behold the fallen hero!
Now he is forced to lie in death,
his promises worth zero.

Zemrud is seen outside, passing by the window. She stops and looks inside inquisitively.

Alas, I know my flow
of bitter tears is hard to swallow.
Today I cry in sorrow,
for I shall die to tomorrow,
for I in turn shall die tomorrow.

 

Dialogue

Scene Eleven

Zemrud has entered at the close of Fatima’s aria and stands in the doorway, astonished.

ZEMRUD: That Mesrur! He swore by the Prophet that you were the dead one.

FATIMA: If only it were I!

ZEMRUD: You listen to Zemrud: better ten husbands than one wife. —Let me have a look at him; so I can swear he’s dead.

Both walk over to Hassan.

FATIMA: (lifting the turban) Look and weep. Here lies, not just Abu Hassan, but Fatima’s better self, her very soul.

ZEMRUD: Poor thing. But isn’t it funny? —He doesn’t look dead.

FATIMA: Yes, he still looks as if he were alive. I can hardly convince myself I am a widow. A widow! (She cries.)

ZEMRUD: There, there. There, there. (She cries with Fatima, then prepares to leave.) Pull yourself together. You’re still young and pretty. Abu Hassan wasn’t the only man in the world.

Fatima escorts Zemrud out.

 

Scene Twelve

HASSAN: (cautiously getting up) Curdle the harpy and her curst comfort!

FATIMA: (returning) I thought she had a point.

HASSAN: Your tender sentiments cut me to the quick! However, I am still alive, and hope to remain so. We must be resolute—and, more to the purpose—clever!

 

No. 9a. Trio: Fatima, Abu Hassan, & Omar

Omar again appears at the latticed opening above the door.

[FATIMA & OMAR:] (simultaneously with Hassan)
How my anxious heart is pounding!
To where are these matter tending?
Where?
Can there be a happy ending?
Only by a twist of fate,
by a stunning twist of fate,
a twist of fate.

[HASSAN:]

However my heart may be pounding,
I know where these matters are tending,
and I will secure a happy ending;
my cunning can outwit fate.
Yes, only my cunning,
my cunning can outwit fate.

HASSAN: I am cheerful!

FATIMA: I am fearful.

HASSAN: I am sure.

FATIMA: And I am leery.
What will happen?

HASSAN: What a query!
What a question!
You will find out in the end.

March, sounding as if from a distance, indicating the approach of the Calif, Zobeïda, and attendants.

FATIMA: And the end is now impending!

HASSAN: While you live, enjoy your life.

FATIMA: (listening) Use your ears!

HASSAN: (He runs to the window.)
Oh no, the Calif!

FATIMA: (She is also at the window.)
And his servants!

HASSAN: And his wife!

ALL THREE: They’re coming nearer!
Allah, answer my petition!
Help! Help! I am paralyzed with dread!

HASSAN: (to Fatima)
In position! On the bed!

FATIMA: I’m already nearly dead!

Fatima lies down on the right divan. Hassan covers her.

HASSAN: In the rosy-fingered dawn,
you will sing another song.

FATIMA: May I live to see the sight!

HASSAN & OMAR: Not a whisper!

Hassan lies down on the left divan.

HASSAN: Good night!

ALL THREE: Good night!

 

Scene Thirteen

The Calif’s Attendants enter. They position themselves on both sides of the stage so that the divans remain visible.

 

No. 9b. Mixed Chorus of the Calif’s Attendants

CHORUS: Open wide your painted portals.
Throw your bodies in the dust.
Be prepared to greet your rulers,
Harun and Zobeïda,
Harun al-Rashid the Just.

 

Scene Fourteen

Zobeïda and the Calif are carried in on palanquins and are set down near the door. All the Attendants kneel to them. Mesrud and Zemrud also enter. Mesrur rushes over to Fatima’s “corpse” in order to point it out to the Calif. Zemrud rushes over to Abu Hassan’s “corpse” in order to point it out to Zobeïda.

CHORUS:

Throw your bodies prostrate in the dust.
Be prepared to greet your rulers,
Harun and Zobeïda.
Harun!

 

Dialogue

CALIF: (only noticing Fatima, to Zobeïda) Now tell me I am misinformed!

In response to a signal from the Calif, the attendants raise him upand perhaps also Zobeïdaon the palanquins.

ZOBEÏDA: Have I lost my bet?

CALIF: (noticing both bodies and shrinking back with a shudder) What’s this? Both dead? But she told you—and he told me—It comes down to this: which of them died first?

ZOBEÏDA: Abu Hassan. Pay me my winnings.

CALIF: Why not say the wife died first, and pay me?

MESRUR: Indeed, it is as the Upholder of the Prophet proclaims. With my own eyes I saw the wife dead and Hassan capering in his customary style.

ZEMRUD: (to Mesrur) You liar! Hassan was dead and Fatima crying her eyes out.

CALIF: Silence! We cannot settle this by argument. We need evidence. (pointing to the bills on the table) Perhaps these papers contain some clue. (He takes them and skims through them.) Nothing but bills. (He hands the bills to Zobeïda.)

ZOBEÏDA: What an enormous amount! How could they afford it?

CALIF: By the Prophet, I will give ten thousand gold pieces to the man who can tell me which died first!

HASSAN: (sitting up) I did!

All but the Calif and Zobeïda draw back in terror, exclaiming:

ALL: Help, Allah!

CALIF & ZOBEÏDA: Well?

HASSAN: (throwing himself at the Calif’s feet) Most merciful of magnates, you will surely understand. Dire poverty compelled me: our means justified our ends!

CALIF: (indicating the bills) I begin to see.

ZOBEÏDA: And your wife?

HASSAN: A gracious word from you would recall her from beyond the grave.

ZOBEÏDA: Fatima!

FATIMA: (getting up) My lady—forgive me!

CALIF: So in this way you—informed me of your need and acquired the means to pay your debts.

HASSAN: Lord, they are not paid. The holder of these notes passionately pursues Fatima. He set her dishonor as his price.

CALIF: Name the wretch!

HASSAN: (opening the closet and dragging Omar out) Omar!

OMAR: (falling at the Calif’s feet) I am your most abject slave!

CALIF: It is only my well-known mercy that saves you from death. Out of my sight! (Omar slinks off. Then, to Mesrur) Go, tell my treasurer to honor my oath. Let Abu Hassan be paid ten thousand pieces of gold. We must not let him dwindle into an early grave.

HASSAN: Most noble sovereign! Truly, I died badly, but I shall live well!

 

No. 10. Closing Chorus

CHORUS: All hail the happy household
on which the Calif smiles,
where he and Zobeïda
have trodden on the tiles.
Hail, hail, hail, hail, hail, hail!

 

End of the Farce

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