Opera Scotland

Rose of Persia The Rose of Persia, or The Story-teller and the Slave

Tours by decade

Tours by location


Arthur Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)


Basil Hood (1864-1917).


An episode in The Arabian Nights.



First Performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 29 November 1899.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royalty Theatre), 23 July 1900.



The Rose of Persia was the last comic opera to be completed by Sullivan, and his collaboration with Basil Hood produced a generally successful work which was well-received both in London and on tour.  Sullivan's music is of a high standard, and some of the middle-eastern effects he introduces are sometimes reminiscent of his music for Ivanhoe.  Basil Hood provided a witty libretto with some nice rhymes (executioner with royal retributioner?).  After his next libretto, for Sullivan's unfinished Emerald Isle, he continued to work for the Savoy group (Merrie England) and also developed a successful line as adaptor and translator of the newly-fashionable Viennese operettas, such as The Merry Widow.

The Rose of Persia, or The Story-Teller and the Slave opened at the Savoy Theatre on November 24 1899.   It had a run of 200 performances, and was immediately considered to be Sullivan's best piece for some time.   The first cast included Walter Passmore (Hassan), Henry Lytton (the Sultan), Rosina Brandram (Dancing Sunbeam), and Ellen Beach Yaw (the Sultana).   The latter role was written for a higher soprano range than usual, including a top F, like the Queen of Night in Mozart's Magic Flute.


Main Characters

Sultan Mahmoud of Persia (baritone)

Hassan, a philanthropist (baritone)

Yussuf, a professional story-teller (tenor)

Abdallah, a priest (bass)

Grand Vizier (baritone)

Rose-in-Bloom, Sultana Zubeydeh disguised (soprano)

Dancing Sunbeam, Hassan's first wife (contralto)

Heart's Desire, a slave (mezzo-soprano)


Plot Summary

Hassan is wealthy, and reasonably content with his twenty-five wives, but is widely thought to be mad because of his liking for the company of beggars.  His senior wife, Dancing Sunbeam, with pretensions to rise in society, is not amused.  Abdallah only declares him sane when Hassan offers to leave his fortune to him in his will.  Dancing Sunbeam finds the prospect of imminent widowhood thoroughly cheering.  Yussuf enters with four dancing girls.  Three of these are slaves from the Sultana's household, but the fourth is the Sultana herself.  They have sneaked out to explore life in the outside world.  Yussuf and Heart's Desire are attracted.  The slave takes her mistress's ring so that the Sultana's identity won't be revealed. A squad of beggars enters to feast with Hassan.  Since Yussuf's stories are deemed unsuitable for all ears, Hassan orders the four girls to dance.  When Abdallah brings police to arrest the beggars, Hassan bribes them to turn a blind eye as the beggars escape.  The girls must be arrested instead, so Heart's Desire, to save her mistress, claims to be the Sultana.  This may mean not just her execution, for leaving the palace, but also Hassan's, for harbouring her.  To ease his path to the exit, Hassan takes a hallucinatory drug, bhang.  As soon as he is under the influence, the Sultan arrives with his Vizier, Physician and Executioner, all four disguised as dervishes - he has come to investigate tales of Hassan's madness.  The intoxicated Hassan behaves insultingly to the Sultan, who decides to take him to the palace and play a trick on him, by pretending that Hassan is the Sultan.

Heart's Desire and Yussuf are determined to marry.  But to get the Sultan's approval it would be necessaru for Yussuf to explain how they met, which would open up the question of what the ladies were doing outside the palace.  The Sultan's ruse in connection with Hassan has given him the idea that he might have a long overdue holiday.  Dancing Sunbeam now leads in a deputation of Hassan's wives - since Hassan is apparently now the Sultan, then she must be the Sultana.  The facts of the Sultana's excursion at last are revealed, and it is with some difficulty that the Sultan is persuaded not to have his wife, Hassan and the other principals executed, but Hassan's stoty-telling abilities save the day.

The Cast

 a Priest
 Hassan's Twenty-Fifth Wife
Dancing Sunbeam
 Hassan's First Wife
Grand Vizier
 a Philanthropist
Heart's Desire
 a Favourite Slave of the Sultana
 a Favourite Slave of the Sultana
 the Sultana Zubeydeh, disguised
Royal Executioner
 a Favourite Slave of the Sultana
 of the Guard
 Mahmoud of Persia
 a Professional Story-Teller

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha