> LEHAR Land of Smiles [RW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Le Pays du Sourire (The Land of Smiles) (1929) Romantic operetta (in French)
M. de Pondeau, H. Hayashil, J. Guy, P. Gueirard
Conducted by Paul Bonneau
Recorded 1992
JENI PRODUCTIONS M10 220042 [40.02]

This budget release will serve as a good introduction to anyone sampling Lehár for the first time.

The briefest of notes (about 150 words) are given in French only. Sadly, no information is provided on which singers sing which parts, nor the orchestra and its direction.

Lehár, a Hungarian lightweight composer, introduced a new wave of operetta in the early twentieth century and he may be justifiably regarded as one of the fathers of ‘The Musical’. Of Merry Widow fame he launched Le Pays du Sourire in 1929. In 1923, his Yellow Jacket (Die gelbe Jacke) was given a Chinese setting and told the story of an oriental prince and a Viennese woman. Despite its spectacular staging the production was only moderately successful with around one hundred performances. However, Lehár relaunched this work as Das Land des Lachelns (The Land of Smiles/Le Pays du Sourire) in a much revised form six years later. The work then gained immortality. Traubner who has researched the operetta tells us that the secret of its successful re-launch was principally due to three items – firstly a much improved libretto, secondly a magnificent song for Sou-Chong, ‘Yours is my Heart alone’ (tk.9) and thirdly by giving its principal tenor part to a known star, Richard Tauber. In fact Tauber, the world-famous Austrian tenor of the 1920s, brought fame to four of Lehár’s scores during this period (1925-9).

Le Pays du Sourire (The Land of Smiles) is a straightforward tale of a prince, Sou Chong of China who woos and quickly weds Lisa, a lady of Vienna. He then takes her home to China at the end of the first Act. In Act 2 a twist to the previously happy climate of Act 1 reveals that Lisa has found she has difficulty in adapting to the ways of the East. Lisa sings her poignant song, ‘How I long to see my homeland again’ a number skilfully composed to emotionally stir the audience. A final shock comes when the Prince declares that he intends to take more wives, and Chinese ones at that. A further twist lies in the fact that one of the Chinese princesses, Mi longs for some of the freedom that only the West can offer. She is provided with some lovely musical moments by Lehár in a both a solo and duet.

The disappointingly short length of this disc means that only highlights of the music contained in the musical are provided and so the story mentioned above is perhaps superfluous. However, all the main numbers are present along with a shortened overture (about 60% has been edited out).

Of the singers, the women are in better voice than the men. The leading tenor (H. Hayashil) is at times insecure in pitch and has a pronounced vibrato which does not help delivery of the hit number Je t’ai donné mon coeur and a harsh resonance sometimes accompanies another male soloist.

I wonder whether this recording started its life as a radio broadcast, or as one short LP? This would explain its economic length and possibly some unusual acoustics. The singers are given artificial reverberation while the orchestra is closely miked and acoustically dry. This does not mean to say that the orchestra drowns the singers: the balance is good and the sound is clear. Fortunately, the covers the singers’ reverberation and therefore the reverberation is not too much of a distraction. There is a wider than usual stereo separation which I find quite attractive.

The leaflet contains details of other discs in the series, some of which are rarities and may be of particular interest to the reader: there are two by Francis Lopez – ‘La Perle des Antilles’ (volume 2), and ‘Volga’ (volume 5). Also Lehár’s lesser known ‘Rose de Nöel’ (volume 3) is listed.

Raymond Walker


"Operetta", Traubner (Oxford 1883);
"Musicals", Ganzl (Carlton 1995)

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