Opera Scotland

Land of Smiles Das Land des Lachelns

Music
Franz Lehár (born Komorn, 30 April 1870; died Bad Ischl, 24 October 1948)

Text
Ludwig Herzer & Fritz Beda-Lohner

Source
Lehár’s earlier operetta Das gelbe Jacke (Vienna 1923) with libretto by Viktor Leon.

Premières
First performance: Berlin (Metropoltheater), 10 October 1929.
First UK performance: London (Theatre Royal Drury Lane), 8 May 1931.
First performance in Scotland To be confirmed.
Scottish Opera première: None.

Background
Lehár dominated the world of Viennese operetta in the early years of the twentieth century. His father was a military bandmaster in the Austro-Hungarian army, and that was the route Lehar followed in his early career. It took several years before he achieved success as a composer, first with his famous Gold and Silver waltz, then, after several failures, with his operetta The Merry Widow (Vienna 1905). These two items have remained universally popular.

He had a number of successes with later compositions, such as The Count of Luxemburg, Paganini, Friederike and Giuditta, but they seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years. The Land of Smiles was one of his last works and the “Chinese” effects show the clear influence of Puccini’s Turandot. It was composed with the voice of the great tenor Richard Tauber in mind. It maintained its popularity for many years largely due to the hit tenor solo “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” (translated as “You are my heart’s delight” or “Love, let me dream again”). Tauber sang in the first performances in Berlin, Vienna, London and New York, and it was thought almost impossible to stage the piece in his absence (he died in 1948). The last major professional staging in the UK was at Sadler’s Wells in 1959, a production which toured Scotland in 1961.

Characters
Lisa Lichtenfels, a Viennese countess soprano
Count Gustav von Pottenstein, an army lieutenant, known as 'Gustl' (baritone)
Prince Sou-Chong, a Chinese diplomat (tenor)
Mi, Sou-Chong’s sister (soprano)
Tchang, Sou-Chong’s uncle (baritone)

Plot Summary
The action opens in Vienna in 1912. Lisa turns down a proposal from Gustl, insisting that they remain just good friends. She is more interested in Sou-Chong, a Chinese diplomat, and tries to break down his mask of inscrutability. Sou-Chong explains to her that Chinese attitudes to women and marriage are very different compared to what he has seen in the west. Just as they realise they are in love, it is announced that he has been appointed Prime Minister and must return to China.

A few months later, in Peking, Sou-Chong and Lisa are living as though married. However their relationship is not recognised by the Chinese authorities, who insist he marries Chinese wives (four of them!). Their relationship breaks up under the strain. Gustl arrives as part of a diplomatic mission, and eventually Mi prevails upon her brother to allow Gustl to take Lisa back to the west.

RECORDINGS

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1953 Coupled with The Merry Widow.
Conductor: Otto Ackermann
Philharmonia Orchestra
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Lisa), Nicolai Gedda (Sou-Chong), Erich Kunz (Gustl).

Two recordings of Lehár operettas which instantly achieved classic status and allowed both pieces to be treated as serious operatic works rather than as musical comedies. Schwarzkopf was already a popular and established star. The challenge for producer Walter Legge was to find a tenor able to defy memories of Tauber. Gedda had been singing professionally for less than a year, and achieved star status overnight. He went on to record a number of operetta roles in addition to his notable serious career.

EMI Classics for Pleasure (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1959

Excerpts, coupled with excerpts from The Merry Widow and The Count of Luxembourg.
Conductor: Vilem Tausky
Sadler’s Wells Opera Orchestra
Elizabeth Fretwell (Lisa), Charles Craig (Sou-Chong), Peter Grant (Gustl).

This recording contains highlights from both Lehár operettas produced at Sadler’s Wells in that period when the company also did well by Johann Strauss and Offenbach. Elizabeth Fretwell was one of a number of notable Australian singers who spent several years of their career based at Sadler’s Wells. She toured frequently to Scotland, usually singing dramatic roles, and also sang with Scottish Opera. London-born Charles Craig had a notable international career, particularly in Verdi and Puccini roles, though he also sang German and French repertoire. He performed regularly with Scottish Opera.

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1967

Conductor: Willy Mattes
Graunke Symphony Orchestra
Anneliese Rothenberger (Lisa), Nicolai Gedda (Sou-Chong), Harry Friedauer (Gustl).

This is a stereo remake to give us Gedda’s incomparable performance of Sou-Chong in modern sound. Rothenberger is also entirely comfortable with the style required to perform this luscious music.

The Cast

Count Ferdinand
 
Count Gustav von Rottenstein
 an army lieutenant (Güstl)
Countess Roheim
 
Fini
 
Franzi
 
Fu-Li
 
General Count Lichtenfels
 
General Goetz
 
Hum-Yen
 
Lieutenant Rudi Van Westhof
 
Lisa Lichtenfels
 a Viennese countess
Lore
 
Mi
 Sou-Chong's sister
Sou Chong
 a Chinese diplomat
Tchang
 Sou-Chong's uncle
Toni
 
Valli
 

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