Exoticism in the Composition and Reception of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I and Flower Drum Song
The phenomenon of exoticism in Western classical music has attracted increasing attention from scholars during the past twenty years or so. This phenomenon can be traced back to the eighteenth century and became particularly prominent in the nineteenth century as European colonialism, exploration, and contact with the Middle East and Asia expanded. While exoticism can be found in instrumental music, it is particularly well suited to the stage. Operas such as Delibes's™ Lakmé© (1883), set in India, Bizet's™ The Pearl Fishers (1863), set in Ceylon, and Puccini's™ Madama Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (1926), set respectively in Japan and China, are well-known examples.
The American musical, by contrast, has only recently been addressed at all by musicologists, and there is still much work to be done on this genre. South Pacific (1949) has recently been studied intensively by scholars including Geoffrey Block and Jim Lovensheimer, but other Asian-focused major works of Rodgers and Hammerstein like The King and I (1951) remains largely unexplored.
Our goal in this project was to examine the King and I from two directions: composition and reception. Relevant to composition will be the works'™ relation to their historical and literary models, as well as documents that reflect the process of decision-making that took place among Rodgers, Hammerstein, and others they worked with to create the shows, such as set designers and choreographers. Relevant to reception will be reviews and publicity materials at different places and times. We have looked at source documents from the Library of Congress and studied earlier representation of the English governess in literature and film. In all these materials, we are looking at issues such as how accurate a work is to historical reality, how it presents people of different ethnicities, whether and how it reflects stereotypes.
Faculty Mentor: Lisa Feurzeig, Music
Page last modified March 24, 2014