LEHAR: Das Land des Lachelns
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Franz LEH?â?üR (1870-1948)
Das Land des Lachelns (The Land of Smiles)
In the twilight of his career Franz Lehar aptlycommented: 'I think an operetta should never losecontact with human feeling or ideas. This is the secret ofits impressiveness which, arousing emotion, is moreprofound, serious and purer than the effectiveness ofwhat is nothing but a show'. Such an observation iscertainly true of his operetta Das Land des Lachelns(The Land of Smiles).
Generally considered the most significant operettacomposer of the first half of the twentieth century,Franz Lehar was Hungarian born, though his greatestsuccesses were achieved first in Vienna and latterly inBerlin. Son of a bandmaster, the young Lehar enteredPrague Conservatoire at the age of fifteen, later joiningan orchestra, before enlisting in the Army and becomingits youngest bandmaster at the time. Based at Pola onthe Adriatic he was able to hone his orchestraltechniques through the opportunity of conducting theorchestra in the country's only outlet to the sea.
It was the great success of Lehar's waltz Gold undSilber (Gold and Silver), composed for PrinceMetternich's eponymous opera ball in January 1902,that revealed his talents to a wider public. On leavingmilitary service he was first employed as a conductor atthe Prater in that summer, followed by employment as aKapellmeister at the Theater an der Wien in the autumn.
Around this time he composed his first serious operettaWiener Frauen for the rival Carltheater in December1902, the news of which forced his resignation from hisconducting position. Now Lehar had the opportunityand independence to pursue a full-time composingcareer. Three further operettas followed before theappearance of Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) inDecember 1905. The worldwide success of this newwork made the composer's name known internationally.
It continues to remain the composer's best-known stagework a century later. Further operettas before theoutbreak of the First World War in August 1914followed, Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count ofLuxembourg) (1909), Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love)(1910) and Eva (1911).
The break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empirefollowing the end of hostilities in 1918 together with theintroduction to Europe of new styles of popular musicfrom the American continent, seemed to inhibit Leharfor a short period of time. Success returned when thehighly popular Austrian tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948) appeared in a Salzburg production of Gypsy Lovein 1921, soon followed by the new Frasquita in Viennathe following spring. Lehar would then compose sixfurther operettas over the ensuing decade for the uniquevoice of Tauber. These would include songs, duets andensembles but also what became known affectionatelyas the 'Tauber-Lied'. These operettas were Paganini(1925), Der Zarewitsch (1926), Friederike (1928), DasLand des Lachelns (1929), Schon ist der Welt (1931)and Giuditta (1934). The subject matter and story-linefor these works may have appeared rather sentimental,even old-fashioned at the time, but Lehar was astuteenough to create unhappy endings in some of theseworks, something which hitherto had not occurred inViennese operetta.
In 1935 the composer founded his own publishinghouse Glocken Verlag in Vienna in order to have morecontrol over the performance and the availability of hisworks. He even acquired the rights of his earlier worksfrom publishers to whom he had earlier sold thecopyright. His seventieth birthday was celebrated inNazi-occupied Vienna but other than that he livedquietly with his partly Jewish wife away from the publicgaze. His principal musical activity during this time wasa series of radio broadcasts of his operettas that havehappily come down to us. Moving to Zurich in 1946,where his wife died the following year, Lehar thenreturned to his Austrian villa at Bad Ischl, dying there inOctober 1948. The building is now a museum to thecomposer's memory.
When one examines any Lehar score it isimmediately evident that the composer was a superbcreator of melodies, but also a composer who was ableto develop his musical language over the years from1902 until 1934, something that is certainly far from thenorm in the world of operetta and musicals of that time.
His use of the Viennese waltz is always obvious, but itis the skill in his orchestration, something he alonealways undertook, that is very much his own. He wasalso adept at employing local atmospheric colouring inhis scores. For example, notice the differing orchestraleffects he employs in the first act of The Land of Smiles,set in Vienna, as against that of China in the tworemaining two acts. It is most effective.
The vocal highlight of The Land of Smiles,incidentally a reworking of an earlier 1923 operetta DasGelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket) but to a new libretto,has to be the melting \Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" in Act2 as sung by Prince Sou-Chong. Other equallymemorable songs are Prince's "Immer nur lacheln undimmer vergn?â??gt" and "Von Apfelbl?â??ten einen Kranz",the charming duet "Bei einem Tee", all from Act 1.
From Act 2 there is the love duet "Wer hat die Liebe",Mi's delightful "Im Salom zur bl'n Pagode", theMi/Gustl duet "Meine Liebe", and the bitter butpoignant duet between the Prince and Lisa "Ich bin deinHerr". All these are preceded by the Overture, which isa splendid potpourri of the principal melodies.
Made in 1953, this was the first complete recordingof The Land of Smiles, of which The Gramophonemagazine wrote, the following year: "The principals allexcel in sentiment. [Schwarzkopf offers] perfection ofperformance ... Loose is the ideal soubrette ... Geddasounds young and caressing ... Kunz's charm ... andKraus imparts the right touch of sternness. Theorchestral playing is pointed and colourful".
In the r?â??le of the Chinese prince Sou-Chong is theSwedish tenor Nicolai Gedda (b 1925). His versatilityhas always been considered remarkable in that he hassung in and can speak seven languages. Born inStockholm of a Russian father and Swedish mother, abass member of the Kuban Don Cossack Choir and latercantor at the Russian Orthodox Church in Leipzig, hewas trained at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music.
He made his debut at the Royal Opera in Stockholm in1951 in the premi?â?¿re of Sutermeister's Der rote Stiefe,followed by the r?â??le of Chapelou in Adam's Lepostillon de Longjumeau in April 1952, an occasion thatbrought him to international attention. After taking partin the first Western recording of Boris Godunov underDobrowen (Naxos 8.110242-44), Gedda made his LaScala debut in 1953 as Don Ottavio and the Groom inthe premi?â?¿re of Orff's Il trionfo di Afrodite. Thefollowing years saw him appear at the Paris Opera(Huon in Oberon), the Aix-en-Provence Festival,Covent Garden (the Duke in Rigoletto), SalzburgFestival (Belmonte in Die Entf?â??hrung) and theMetropolitan in New York as Gounod's Faust. In 1958he created the r?â??le of Anatol in Barber's Vanessa,which he also gave in Salzburg. He first sang Berlioz'sBenvenuto Cellini at the Holland Festival in 1961,which he later repeated at Covent Garden in 1966, 1969and 1976. He also appeared in Russia in 1980-81 togreat acclaim. His London concert-hall debut took placein 1986. He sang at the Met for 22 seasons in 27 r?â??les in289 performances. He was still recording as recently as2002. Gedda has proved the most versatile lyric tenor ofhis time with a vast discography covering everyconceivable aspect of the repertory.
The r?â??le of Lisa is sung by the German sopranoElisabeth Schwarzkopf (b. 1915), wife of therecording producer and impresario Walter Legge (1906-1979) whom she married in 1953. She studied at theBerlin Hochschule f?â??r Musik and later with the sopranoMaria Ivog?â??n, making her debut as one of theFlowerma