|Released||1949 in South Pacific|
|Lyricist(s)||Oscar Hammerstein II|
"Bali Ha'i", also spelled "Bali Hai", is a show tune from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. The name refers to a mystical island, visible on the horizon but not reachable, and was originally inspired by Espiritu Santo's sighting of Ambae island in Vanuatu, where author James Michener was stationed in World War II.
In South Pacific
In the musical, Bali Ha’i is a volcanic island within sight of the island on which most of the action takes place. The troops think of Bali Ha’i as an exotic paradise, but it is off-limits — except to officers. The matriarch of Bali Ha’i, Bloody Mary, conducts a lot of business with the troops, and she meets Lt. Joseph Cable right after he arrives. She sings to him her mysterious song "Bali Ha’i", with its haunting orchestral accompaniment, because she wants to entice him to visit her island. She doesn’t tell him that she wants him to meet, and fall in love with, her young daughter, Liat.
Resemblance to score for Bride of Frankenstein
Several commentators have noted that the opening melody of Bali Ha'i bears a resemblance to the "bride motif" in Franz Waxman's musical score for the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein. Both melodies share an identical three note pattern.
Several versions of the showtune made the bestsellers list in 1949. Perry Como's version was the most successful at #5. Other versions appearing on the charts were by Paul Weston and his Orchestra (#10), Bing Crosby (#12), Peggy Lee (#13), and Frank Sinatra (#18). Later, Harry James released a version on his 1955 album, Jazz Session (Columbia CL 669); Andy Williams released a version on his 1958 album, Andy Williams Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein; and Sergio Franchi included this song on his 1965 RCA Victor tribute to The Songs of Richard Rodgers.
Connections to actual islands
Ambae is visible on the horizon from Espiritu Santo island, where James A. Michener was stationed in World War II. Michener referred to the island in his book, Tales of the South Pacific, which is the basis for the musical South Pacific. The author used the tranquil, hazy image of the smoothly sloping island on the horizon to represent a not-so-distant but always unattainable place of innocence and happiness. Hence the longing nature of the song. In his memoir, The World Is My Home (1992), Michener writes of his time in the Treasury Islands: "On a rude signboard attached to a tree, someone had affixed a cardboard giving the settlement's name, and it was so completely different from ordinary names, so musical to my ear that I borrowed a pencil and in a soggy notebook jotted the name against the day when I might want to use if for some purpose I could not then envisage: Bali-ha'i."
In the 1958 film adaptation, Bali Ha'i is portrayed by the real-life island of Tioman in Malaysia. However, the scene[clarification needed] was filmed on the north shore of Kauaʻi; Mount Makana was used as Bali Hai and is still known as Bali Hai today. Tunnel's Beach is often referred to as "Nurses' Beach", and the scene where Bloody Mary sings "Bali Ha'i" is set on Hanalei Bay.
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