Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

At dawn outside of a mosque in eleventh-century Baghdad, we meet an old man – the Imam of the Mosque – who descends the steps with lantern in hand and looks to the stars, contemplating love over time ("The Sands of Time"). Four muezzins appear, calling the faithful to prayers in song and waking several beggars who complain about everything. As the beggars begin their day's work, some whirling dervishes appear, as does Omar Khayyam, Court Poet of the Calyph of Baghdad and the author of the Rubaiyat. Omar is disappointed to find that Hajj, his regular beggar, is traveling to Mecca. He doesn't give his money to another beggar; he is too old to switch beggars.

A Public Poet arrives, offering to sell poems to the beggars so that he may buy breakfast for him and his daughter, Marsinah; the beggars are not interested ("Rhymes Have I"). Despite the Poet and Marsinah's efforts, the beggars walk away. Having no alternative, the Poet sends Marsinah to steal oranges from the market. The Poet sits on the steps of the Mosque. A beggar tells him to move – he's sitting in the best begging spot in Baghdad, and that spot is reserved for the return of old Hajj. Omar returns, also surprised to find someone sitting in Hajj's spot. The poet claims to be Hajj's cousin and, thus, a rightful place-keeper for Hajj. Omar gives him a coin. A fig seller arrives, and the Poet begs for a fig at first; having no luck, he issues a stream of curses until the fig seller relents. The Poet is impressed with what he has made begging, thinking that maybe it's time to change his destiny ("Fate"). Hassan-Ben, a henchman for the evil Master Brigand Jawan, enters, looking for Hajj. The Poet again identifies himself as such, and Hassan-Ben throws a bag over his head and carries the Poet away.

In the desert, Master Brigand Jawan crouches over a red-hot charcoal brazier; we are in his hastily assembled camp. Hassan-Ben enters carrying the Poet. Jawan wants 'Hajj' to remove the curse that caused Jawan's son to be stolen many years ago. The Poet offers to remove the curse but reminds him that it must be done voluntarily and only with adequate payment. Jawan pays him! The Poet is impressed with his newfound wealth ("Fate").

We find ourselves at the Bazaar of Caravans, where a group of tradesmen is camped outside of the city, offering an array of goods ("Bazaar of Caravans"). Their bacchanalia ends with the arrival of the Wazir of Police. Porcine and petulant, he is menacing but oafish. Always the butt of jibes from any crowd, his threat to have his men break some teeth is interrupted by his wife's grand entrance. She arrives in a silk-draped litter being carried by half-naked slave men; this is the lascivious and libidinous Lalume. The Wazir, who is deep in debt, demands to know if she's secured a loan. She hasn't, but she has been promised ten camels loaded with riches if they can marry three Ababunian princesses to the Caliph. The princesses appear, young and fierce, brandishing swords in an exotic dance. They fall prostrate at the Wazir's feet. Unfortunateyl, their language is all but unintelligible; it is clear, however, that they are homesick and unhappy. Lalume and the Wazir desperately try to convince the young princesses of Baghdad's charms, hoping to entice them to stay ("Not Since Nineveh").

As they all exit, Marsinah, the Poet's daughter, runs by with her stolen oranges, pursued by the orange merchant. The Poet enters and knocks the merchant down; the merchant looks for the police. The Poet asks Marsinah what she would desire if she could have anything in the world. Her meager response is that she would like breakfast. Her father suggests that she should dream bigger, then he gives her his gold. She's overwhelmed as all of the merchants gather around to gawk at her riches. She dreams of a life of luxury as the merchants dress her ("Baubles, Bangles and Beads"). From a distance, the Caliph watches her transformation. He is in love; Omar warns him to be careful, but, when Marsinah exits, he follows her.

They arrive at the beautiful garden outside of the Widow Yussef's house; this is a home that Marsinah has long coveted. Marsinah asks the widow if the house is for sale, and she responds that it is. Alone, Marsinah rhapsodizes about how her family could grow here in this garden. The Caliph arrives, and they fall in love ("Stranger in Paradise"). They agree to meet back at this spot to get married. The Poet appears on a side street, lolling upon a richly cushioned Oriental rickshaw that is being pulled by four beautiful slave girls. He wears a golden turban and a gold tunic, puffing on a hookah. The Wazir's police intercept him and ask his identity. He pauses and then offers a bribe if they'll go away. Their leader seizes his purse and sees that it has the mark of the house of Achmed, who was robbed by Jawan the Brigand. They arrest him, and he lamely cries that it's all a mistake, that he's a poet. They demand a poem, and he offers one of his lesser efforts, so they take him off to the Wazir.

In the throne room of the Wazir of Police, the Wazir paces in front of his throne while the Three Princesses of Ababu have their hair done. The rivals for the Caliph's hand are presented to the Wazir, each more deserving than the last. Lalume enters to find the Wazir in despair. He opens his Court of Justice to cheer himself up. The Poet is brought before him; he begs for mercy and makes eyes at Lalume. The Poet proclaims his innocence, relating how he earned the gold pieces by removing a curse from Jawan's household. The Wazir does not believe in his power to curse and orders his hand to be cut off. The Poet complains that a poet needs his hand to tell his tales, all the while continuing to flirt with Lalume ("Gesticulate"). The Wazir is still unimpressed, and, as the guards take him off to his fate, the Poet curses the Wazir with all of his might.

Suddenly, Jawan is brought before the Wazir and confirms that he had paid the Poet for removing the curse. He continues, complaining that he still hadn't found his son, when he notices the amulet round the Wazir's neck. He produces a matching amulet. Jawan has found his son! The Poet's magic worked. However, the Wazir recalls that the Poet had cursed him, which seems to have had no effect. The Caliph bursts in announcing that he's chosen a wife... a wife who isn't one of the Ababu princesses. This is unhappy news for the Wazir and his wife. The Caliph leaves, and the Wazir is finally impressed with the Poet's powers. Convinced that he can use them to stop the Caliph's wedding, the Wazir grants the Poet the title of Emir and is then called to confer with a committee of his creditors. The Poet continues to flirt with Lalume, and they kiss with considerable enthusiasm. A commotion ensues outside. The Caliph intends to be married right away and is going to claim his bride. The Wazir returns with his entourage and threatens to skewer the Poet unless he does his magic right away. The Poet spins an elaborate verse ("Fate – Reprise"). His masterful verse has entranced all those present. Lalume "helps" the Wazir participate in the song by bowing his head, and the Poet sneaks out of a side window.

Act Two

Outside of the Widow Yussef's house at moonrise, the Caliph and Omar are preparing for his marriage ("Night of My Nights"). Guests arrive with the wedding finery. The Caliph dons a plain cloak and leaves. Marsinah enters, excited to meet her beau ("Stranger in Paradise – Reprise"). Her father arrives, gives her 90 gold pieces and tells her that she must escape to Damascus immediately, as her life is at risk. She tries to tell him that she is to be wed, but he insists, and, because he is her father, she agrees, they embrace and part in tears. The Caliph and his entourage appear. Caliph tells them to hide themselves until he signals them with the loud snap from the closing of a large silver box that is filled with jewels for his bride ("Baubles, Bangles and Beads – Reprise"). The Widow Yussef enters and mistakes the Caliph for a merchant before realizing her mistake and begging for forgiveness. He grants it and asks if she has seen Marsinah. She tells him that Marsinah had just been here in the embrace of another man. Heartbroken, the Caliph has everyone return to the Palace, feigning happiness so that no one will know that there is no bride ("Night of My Nights – Reprise").

The chief of police waits impatiently in an anteroom of the Wazir's harem. The Wazir and Lalume rush in. The policeman confirms that spies from all over the city report that there is no bride. The Wazir has already heard reports that the Caliph was married, as evidenced by the jovial return of his entourage to the Palace. The policeman tells him that this is a trick; the commoner bride never appeared. The Wazir is overjoyed and sends for the Poet to receive his reward. He delights in how he has achieved such success ("Was I Wazir"). The Poet arrives, and the Wazir gives him a crown, a mirror to admire himself and attendants to satisfy his every want. Omar enters as the Poet greets him in verse. Omar notes that an Emir who is also a poet is rare. The Poet agrees, bragging that he will supplant the royal "old" poet, Omar Khayyam, someday. He continues his insults until he finally realizes to whom he is speaking. He tries to recover by claiming that there is always something to be learned, even from fools ("The Olive Tree").

The Poet relaxes on a terrace by the Wazir's harem, wearing the Emir's Crown. Lalume has been instructed by her husband to delight the Poet. All is right with the world as they enjoy Turkish Delight ("Rahadlakum"). The girls leave, and the Poet and Lalume discuss where to vent their lust just as the Wazir is heard coming down the hall. The Poet dives behind the divan. The Wazir cannot find the Poet until he suddenly pops up, as if by magic, from where he is hiding. The Wazir leaves, reminding Lalume to keep the Poet happy, and Marsinah enters. The Poet introduces his daughter, and Lalume leaves to make arrangements for her quarters. Marsinah explains that she's in love, but that she cannot have him now. The Poet offers that all he has as Emir is hers, but she is heartbroken, so the Poet offers to find him. Simultaneously, very nearby, the Caliph demands that the Wazir find his love. The two begin to describe each other so that they may be found ("All This Is My Beloved").

The Caliph and Wazir enter the Wazir's anteroom as the Caliph continues to describe the circumstances under which he met his love. The Wazir tries to console him by offering to peek through a secret mirror into his harem. Although disgusted by this peeping, he looks just as Marsinah is looking for her quarters. The Caliph mistakenly believes that she is Wazir's harem girl and, therefore, already married. He instructs the Wazir to bring all candidates for his marriage to him tonight and leaves. The Wazir believes that the Poet must have arranged this misunderstanding to clear the way for the Caliph's marriage to the Ababu princesses. In order to confirm the Caliph's marriage to the princesses, he forces Marsinah to marry him and has the policeman write that it happened a month prior. He says he will visit Marsinah tonight, and she says that she will kill herself if he does.

All of the nobles of Baghdad gather in the Caliph's Great Audience Hall. Omar makes a grand entrance and introduces the Caliph, who takes his place on the throne. The marital candidates are paraded before the Caliph: the beauteous Princesses of Zanzibar and Turkestan perform exotic belly dances. Finally, the three Princesses of Ababu appear, promising that each has committed to marry that third of him that each can serve best. Their dance demonstrates what they mean. As Omar reads a selection from his Rubaiyat, Wazir tells the Poet about the circumstances surrounding his marriage to Marsinah. The Poet is stunned; The Wazir misunderstands his reaction and tells him not to worry, as he plans to poison her tonight. In a fury, the Poet reaches for his knife before noticing the pool, thinks of a better plan and returns it to its scabbard. Getting everyone's attention, the Poet holds an empty plaque aloft, walks to the pool and sits on the lip. He says that whatever name is written on the plaque when he pulls it out of the pool is the person whom the Caliph should marry. He tricks the Wazir into thinking that he has written the princess' name on the plaque and gets the Wazir to help him in the subterfuge. However, in actuality, he drowns the Wazir in front of everyone, but, before revealing that he has done this, he describes the Wazir's crimes to the Caliph and asks what the punishment would be for an individual who had committed those acts. The Poet reveals what he has done.

The Poet goes to get Marsinah and presents her to the Caliph. The two are overjoyed to be reunited. The Caliph punishes the Poet for killing the Wazir by sending him off to a desert oasis with Lalume, where he must bow to her every whim. All are joyful to have found love ("Finale – Act II").