There Are Many Tears in “The Land of Smiles”
Franz Lehar’s “Das Land des Lachelns” (The Land of Smiles) is probably his best known operetta after “The Merry Widow.” It tells the tale of a Viennese woman who falls in love with a Chinese Prince, follows him to China, and finds she cannot live as his “possession,” according to Chinese customs. There is, indeed, very little smiling in this Land of Smiles.
There is a German television version of 1974 that runs 100 minutes. It is cut and rewritten, and stars an extremely wooden Rene Kollo as Prince Sou-Chong. But now there is a 134-minute version on an ORF DVD that preserves a “live” production given in 2001 at the Seefestspiele Morbisch (Austria).
The outdoor setting boasts a wide playing area with a lovely vista of water behind it. There are two dance groups. One seems to be an Austrian group that waltzes during the overture and in Act I; the other is The Hunan Provincial Song and Dance Troupe that adds lots of color during processional sequences and sets the mood during other dramatic moments. It is all very eye-filling.
While not a great actor but still blocks ahead of Kollo, Sangho Choi at least shows some emotion (gladness to anger to regret) and has a ringing tenor voice that has made some compare him to Richard Tauber, the immensely popular tenor who created the role and starred in many Lehar works. Lisa, his maltreated beloved, is sung and acted nicely by Ingrid Habermann.
The secondary lovers (think of Will and Ado Annie in “Oklahoma”) are Lisa’s cousin Gustl (Dietmar Kerschbaum) and the Prince’s sister Mi (Yuko Mitani). It is Mi who gets the comic song about Chinese women who must cover up most of their body and gets to show up in a tennis outfit. Gustl is given a scene with the palace eunuch in which tasteless eunuch jokes are bandied—and I wonder if any of this comes from the original script. Operettas are subjected to all sorts of changes when revived.
But with the use of my invaluable 1353-page copy of “Ganzl’s Book of the Musical Theatre,” I find that all of the songs are included and in the correct order. The music throughout is most enjoyable. Yes, I can recommend this video highly.
The track listing is very sparse: Act I, Act II up to the big aria (“Dein is mein ganzes Herz”), the rest of the act, and Act III. The subtitles are in three languages, but not in German!