Baccaloni, Salvatore

Baccaloni, Salvatore

Baccaloni, Salvatore, 1900-1970, Italian operatic bass, b. Rome. Baccaloni studied architecture before he made his singing debut in Rome in 1921. In 1926 he joined La Scala in Milan under Arturo Toscanini. In 1940 he joined the Metropolitan Opera Company, where he specialized in comic roles such as Bartolo in The Barber of Seville. Known for his large repertory, Baccaloni sang nearly 170 roles in five languages.

The Desert Song is an operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, inspired by the 1925 uprising of the Riffs, a group of Moroccan fighters, against French colonial rule. It was also inspired by stories of Lawrence of Arabia aiding native guerillas. Many tales romanticizing Arab North Africa were in vogue, including Beau Geste and The Son of the Sheik.

Originally titled "Lady Fair" (see illustration), after successful out-of-town tryouts in Wilmington, Delaware and Boston, Massachusetts, the original Broadway production opened at the Casino Theatre on November 30 1926 and ran for a very successful 465 performances. It was directed by Arthur Hurley and choreographed by Bobby Connolly. It starred Robert Halliday and Vivienne Segal. The piece was revived in the late 1940s at New York City Center. Only rarely professionally revived, the piece enjoyed a renaissance in the 1980s when it was played regularly by the Light Opera of Manhattan and revived by the New York City Opera. It is a popular piece for community light opera groups.


The leading man in the original Broadway production was Scottish baritone Richard Halliday and the heroine Vivienne Segal. To celebrate the centennial of Romberg’s birth (1987), the New York City Opera staged a lavish production with Richard White and Linda Michele. Although very old-fashioned by present standards, and wildly improbable in its storyline, The Desert Song is still occasionally performed and has been made into a motion picture four times, though the second version was a short subject, rather than a feature-length film. All film versions were made by Warner Brothers.

In 1929, a lavish production was filmed, with Technicolor sequences and starring John Boles and Myrna Loy. This version captured the spirit of the original Broadway production and became a huge hit. To capitalize on the success of the original picture, Warner Bros. released a two-reel adaptation of the film in 1932 entitled The Red Shadow. By the 1940s, the original 1929 film had become illegal to view or exhibit in the United States due to its Pre-Code content which included sexual innuendo, lewd suggestive humor and open discussion of themes such as homosexuality. Apparently, the Technicolor sequences have survived only in black-and-white.

A second feature version was made in 1943, which was topically altered to have the hero fighting the Nazis. Filmed (entirely) in three-strip Technicolor, it starred Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning.

A third cleaned-up color feature version was made in 1953, with most of the adult themes and humor being removed or sanitized. This version altered the plot to make General Birabeau the father of Margot, rather than the father of the Red Shadow, as in the play. It starred Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae. Both the 1943 and the 1953 films changed the hero's name from the Red Shadow to El Khobar. In the 1953 version, El Khobar's disguise was that of a mild-mannered Latin teacher who tutored Margot and had to fend off her amorous advances (which were fairly discreet by modern standards).

Another clean version was adapted for live television in 1955 (with Gale Sherwood and Nelson Eddy, and Salvatore Baccaloni imported from the Metropolitan Opera to play Ali Ben Ali). One of the writers brought in to modernize some unplayable dialogue was the young Neil Simon.

The plot is an early version of "superhero in mild-mannered disguise loves girl-who-loves-the-superhero" plots such as Superman (compare the earlier tales of the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro).


  • Sid El Kar (tenor)
  • Hassi (baritone)
  • Mindar
  • Benjamin Kidd (comic baritone)
  • Captain Paul Fontaine (baritone or tenor)
  • Azuri (mezzo-soprano)
  • Margot Bonvalet (soprano)
  • General Birabeau (baritone)
  • Pierre Birabeau/Red Shadow (lyric baritone)
  • Susan (soprano or mezzo-soprano)
  • Ali Ben Ali (bass)
  • Clementina
  • Hadji
  • Chorus of Riffs, soldiers and inhabitants of the fortress


French General Birabeau has been sent to Morocco to root out and destroy the Riffs, a band of Arab rebels, who threaten the safety of the French outpost in the Moroccan desert. Their dashing, daredevil leader is the mysterious "Red Shadow", a Frenchman. Margot Bonvalet, a lovely, sassy French girl, is soon to be married at the fort to Birabeau's right-hand man, Captain Fontaine. Birabeau's son Pierre, in reality the Red Shadow, loves Margot, but pretends to be a milksop to preserve his secret identity. Margot tells Pierre that she secretly yearns to be swept into the arms of some bold, dashing sheik, perhaps even the Red Shadow himself. Pierre, as the Red Shadow, kidnaps Margot and declares his love for her.

To her surprise, Margot's mysterious abductor treats her with every western consideration. When the Red Shadow comes face to face with General Birabeau, the old man challenges the rebel leader to a duel. Of course Pierre will not kill his own father, so he refuses to fight, losing the respect of the Riff. Azuri, the sinuous and secretive native dancing girl, might be persuaded to answer some of these riddles if only she can be persuaded by Captain Fontaine. Meanwhile Benny, a reporter, and Susan provide comic relief. Eventually, the Red Shadow's identity is discovered, a deal is struck with the Riff, and Pierre and Margot live happily ever after.

Musical numbers

Act I

  • High on A Hill
  • The Riff Song
  • Let Love Go
  • Margot
  • I'll be a Buoyant Girl
  • The Marching Song
  • Romance
  • It
  • The Desert Song

Act II

  • One Alone
  • If One Flower Grows Alone in Your Garden

("Eastern and Western Love")

  • One Good Man Gone Wrong
  • The Sabre Song
  • The Song of the Brass Key

Also from the show were "Dreaming In Paradise," "Love's Dear Yearning," and "Let's Have a Love Affair." Two songs from The Desert Song are among the operetta and Broadway musical songs lampooned in the 1959 musical Little Mary Sunshine. "The Riff Song" and "The Desert Song" are the respective targets of "The Forest Rangers" (it also parodies several other "gallant warriors" songs, such as "Stout-Hearted Men") "The Desert Song," a hero-sings-to-heroine waltz, is parodied by "You're the Fairest Flower," another hero-sings-to-heroine waltz.


There are quite a few recordings of this score, though most date from the 1950s. No original Broadway cast recording was made, but the 1927 London cast did preserve eight selections for EMI. These 78-RPM records have been transferred to CD on the Pearl Label.

Decca made an album in 1944 with Kitty Carlisle, Felix Knight and Wilbur Evans covering 10 selections from the score. This is on Cd paired with The New Moon.

Earl Wrightson starred in Al Goodman's recording for RCA Victor. This one has not been released on CD. The last issue was on the budget label Camden in 1958.

A more complete recording starring Nelson Eddy was made by Columbia Records in 1953. This has long been the preferred recording of this score and was available on LP though to the end of the vinyl era, but it is not yet available on CD. Around the same time, Gordon MacRae recorded a 10-inch Lp for Capitol of the score. It was later repackaged on one side of a 12-inch album (Kern's Roberta is on the reverse), but that album has been out-of-print since the late 1960s. MacRae also starred in the 1953 film version. His co-star Kathryn Grayson recorded selections with Tony Martin on a 10-inch record for RCA Victor, which is long out of print.

Victor also recorded Mario Lanza in highlights from the score. Released shortly after the singer's death, it became one of his best-selling Lp's and is now available on CD, paired with The Student Prince.

Readers Digest include a selection in their album A Treasury of Great Operettas, first offered for sale in 1963. This stereo recording is available on CD. Also in 1963 as part of a series of stereo recordings of classic operettas, Capitol had MacRae and Dorothy Kirsten record a full album of the score. Most of it can be heard on the EMI CD Music of Sigmund Romberg, along with selections from The Student Prince and The New Moon.

A British studio cast album stars Edmund Hockeridge and June Bronhill. After being unavailable for many years, it has finally been reissued on CD.


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