THE NAUTCH GIRL
or The Rajah of Chutneypore
An Indian comic opera; two acts; libretto by George Dance; Lyrics by George Dance and Frank Desprez; Music by Edward Solomon.
Savoy Theatre, London, 30 June 1891
The scene is the distant province of Chutneypore and the arrival of Indru, son of the local rajah. Indru is disposed to be democratic today for he is in love. But Indru is a high caste Brahmin and he is in love with Hollee Beebee, a lady of low caste, the principal dancer of the touring Nautch troupe run by Baboo Currie. Baboo Currie tries to ease the problem of caste difference by the denigration of Beebee's qualities, not least because he has no wish to have the prettiest dancer of his troupe leave for marriage.
The Nautch troupe enters and Indru breaks the latest bit of bad news
to Hollee. His royal father has discovered their love; if only she were
a Brahmin! Beebee explains that she is or, rather, was. Unfortunately,
forty years previously her father fell into a river and was rescued by
being hauled ashore at the end of a rope.
The man at the other end of the rope was a Pariah, however, and, by a court decision, the taint of dishonour passed down the rope and her father's caste was lost. Since then, Beebee's family has seen its wealth disappear in legal expenses trying to get this decision reversed by a competent tribunal. It is to pay for a Counsel's opinion on a technical point that Beebee has taken her current engagement as a Nautch girl. The court is still sitting, but the judge has influenza and should anything happen to him the case will have to begin all over again.
Punka, the Rajah of Chutneypore and Indru's father, arrives. Punka suffers from a nasty social condition called consanguinity which has led him to place anyone who claims the slightest kinship with him in a salaried government post. In fact he loathes his relations, especially the Vizier Pyjama. It is Pyjama who is the cause of the other national problem: the missing diamond eye of Bumbo, the National Idol.
Beebee explains to the Rajah that she would never have looked at Indru had she known of his position and assures him that she is doing all she can to get a Court judgement which will restore her Brahmin rank. The Rajah informs her that should she succeed she has his permission to call at the palace any Monday morning between ten and twelve when, if Indru has given up and married elsewhere and he himself has become a widower, he would be inclined to offer her first refusal on himself But now Indru returns in the rags of a Pariah. He has purposely 'eaten a little potted meat', thus giving up his caste and his royal position and becoming Beebee's equal. They can be married right away.
This double-quick wedding does not please Punka, nor does it please
Chinna Loofah, an unmarried lady of more-than-twenty who is a victim to
sudden overwhelming 'Affinities' for various gentlemen. It is a source
of great amusement to Pyjama who comes to announce that Beebee's court
case is over, she has won and is a Brahmin again. Pyjama glowing with
righteousness quotes chapter and verse the law which condemns both a Brahmin
and his or her lower caste spouse to a traitor's death.
Just when all seems darkest, Baboo Currie comes to the rescue. He has a ship at anchor waiting to take his troupe off on a European tour and Beebee is hurried aboard. Pyjama's soldiers arrest Indru as the ship lifts anchor and he watches miserably as his bride sails away to another continent.
When the second act begins, Indru is behind bars Making the most of his office is Pyjama. He has put an anonymous letter on the idol's shrine informing him that Indru is a condemned man. The father of a condemned man may not be rajah and, when Punka is condemned Pyjama must be favourite for the post of new rajah.
Indru is not friendless, however, for he has become the innocent latest
object of Chinna Loofah's penchant for affinities and she, practical lady,
brings a crowbar to release him from jail. The freed Indru hides as the
populace fill the square to proclaim a miracle. Bumbo, the idol who has
sat on his shelf in the temple for two
thousand years, has stepped down from his place and is heading this way. Bumbo is carried on - he is after his diamond eye and the villain who stole it.
He complains about the neglect of his worship and vents his temper on Punka who is summarily deposed from his rajahdom and replaced by the eager and oily Pyjama. The bad temper is dispelled, however, when he spots Chinna and, since she succumbs promptly to a violent attack of affinity, they very soon find themselves discussing marriage. His change of heart is not total enough, however, to reprieve Punka. This injustice is too much for the erstwhile rajah. Conquering his consanguinity, he gets Bumbo to include his whole family - 374 professed relations in all - in the proposed execution by Crocodile with the particular inclusion of Pyjama and, by special dispensation, with the express exception of Chinna Loofah.
Hollee Beebee arrives back from a personally triumphant European tour searching for her Indru. Baboo Currie proposes to both the young lovers and to the condemned Punka that they all escape back to Europe where they can earn a fortune as a novelty dance act under his management.
Pyjama laughingly exempts himself from the family execution with the revelation that he isn't and never was a relation of Punka's - he merely claimed to be in order to get promotion. Where Punka has failed, however, Beebee and her girlfriends succeed. They divert Pyjama with one of the popular numbers from their repertoire so that he is late for the executions and the wrath of Bumbo is aroused against the new rajah.
But Pyjama is in worse trouble. Punka can announce the dreadful truth: Pyjama is the thief who stole the idol's eye. As the miscreant is dragged away to his fate, Bumbo sees twinkling a diamond left for Hollee Beebee at a European stage door by an admirer. But it is Bumbo's lost eye. It takes only the length of the finale for Punka to be restored to his former position, Indru and Beebee to fall into each other's arms, and the idol's eye to be restored to its rightful place as he climbs back on to his shelf with Chinna turned to wood alongside him, a bride - anybody's bride-at last.
Punka, the Rajah of Chutneypore
Indru, his son
Pyjama, the Grand Vizier
Chinna Loofah, Suttee, Cheetah, Punka's poor relations
Baboo Currie, proprietor of a Nautch troupe
Hollee Beebee, Banyan, Kalee, Tiffin, Nautch girls
Bumbo, an Idol
Chorus of villagers, etc
- Beneath the Sky of Blue - Opening Chorus - Pariahs
- Bow Not, Good People - Indru
- The Sun Was Setting - Indru
- Roses are Fair - Indru, Baboo Currie
- With Merry Song - Nautch Troupe
- First You Take a Shapely Maiden - Hollee Beebee
- When Our Shackles Are Undone - Hollee Beebee, Indru
- The Rajah of Chutneypore - Chorus
- Quartet: Quite Another Different Kind of Person
- Beebee's a Bride - The Nautch Girls
- A spot far o'er the sea where caste is not and men are free - Baboo Currie, chorus
- We Are Punka's Poor Relations - Chinna and relations
- The Secret of My Past Success - Pyjama
- Duet: A Little Caged Bird - Chinna, Indru
- As I Sat on My Shelf - Bumbo
- When a Fashionable Tenor - Bumbo
- Vive la Liberté - Bumbo, Chinna
- Crocodile - Punka, Bumbo and company
- When All the World Was Bright, Love - Indru
- If We Travel by Way of Brindisi - Baboo Currie, Hollee Beebee, Indru and Punka