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Franz Lehar’s The Land of Smiles on The Lyric Stage

The Land of Smiles is one of Lehar's most popular operettas, of which he wrote twenty-nine. Hear this work Sunday (4/14) at 8 pm.

Franz Lehar composed over three dozen operettas and singspiels, several of which still hold stage today - The Merry Widow, Giuditta , Paganini and the operetta we have this week on the LS, The Land of Smiles.

Composed in 1929, it is one of Lehar’s later operettas, and was written largely around the performance of the renowned tenor Richard Tauber, for whom the composer would often write a signature aria or “tauberlied.” In The Land of Smiles, this aria is “Yours is My Heart Alone”. Set in Vienna and China, in 1912, the opera is also famous for its bittersweet ending.

In Vienna, the Countess Lisa marries a Chinese prince and returns with him to his homeland despite the warnings of her friends and family. In Beijing, however, she finds that she is unable to come to terms with his culture, and especially that he must take other wives. He assures her that it’s just a formality, but unhappiness is inevitable, and she is locked in the palace. Her love changes to hate. At the end, Prince Sou-Chong is left alone, while his beloved Lisa returns to her homeland. His sister, Princess Mi, had also become attached to the Viennese official Gustav, and so the ending is doubly sad. But the prince respects the rule of his custom: always smile.

Our cast tonight features the worthy successor to Tauber in these kind of roles, Fritz Wunderlich, in a recording from 1961. He sings the role of the prince Sou-Chong; Antonia Frahberg is his Lisa, Mi is Luise Camer, and Gustl is Ernst Stankovski. The Cologne Radio Orchestra and chorus is conducted by Franz Marszalek.