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Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Das Land des Lächelns (1929)
Romantic operetta in two parts. Libretto by Herzer, Lohner-Beda and Leon
Sou-Chong: René Kollo (tenor)
Lisa: Birgit Pitsch-Sarata (sop)
Graf Ferdinand von Lichtenfels: Fred Liewehr (bar)
Mi: Dagmar Koller (sop)
Graf Gustav von Pottenstein: Heinz Zednik (bass)
Lin-Po: Herbert Prokipa
Korean Court Ballet
Südfunkchor Stuttgart and Radioorchester Stuttgart/Wolfgang Ebert
Musical arrangement by Bert Grund
Staged and Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt
rec. soundtrack August, September 1973, filmed September, October 1973. DVD.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON UNITEL 0040 073 4056 [100:00]



This DVD brings to light a made-for-television production of Franz Lehár’s operetta recorded in 1973. Alas it is a film that shows its age – looking dated, and to a certain extent sounding it too.

Chief of the positive points is the vocal contribution of René Kollo as Sou-Chong, Prince of Buratonga – not China as in the original operetta. Kollo sings resoundingly in full voice and rather more sensitively in piano passages. The series of show arias and duets in part I and “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” in part II amply reflect Kollo’s pre-eminence as an operetta singer in his youth. He was once likened to Tauber, for whom the role of Sou-Chong was written, though in my view Kollo never possessed Tauber’s elegance, particularly in the head voice.  His knowledge of the score is assured although perhaps his sensitivity to the text is generic. Much the same can be said of his acting. He mimes to the audio recording with passable accuracy, though there is little hint of any emotion in his face reflecting the passionate words he sings.

This is often a feature of opera and operetta films from the early 1970s; with some though it is less pronounced: see Böhm’s Salome featuring Teresa Stratas. Here, all the roles remain emotional shells; much more would be made of them today.

Given the production’s musical emphasis it is a pity that the sound quality is relatively harsh. This from time to time affects all the singers, but Pitsch-Sarata suffers more than most. Often closely microphoned, her attack can be abrupt and given the generally hard edge of this recording can become tiring on the ear. Less so is Dagmar Koller as Mi, Sou-Chong’s sister. Her acting and dancing, although done with skill, remains forever Austrian in character. Herbert Prokipa’s rotund major-domo pushes things further into the realm of stereotypical pastiche than might be considered acceptable today. But it’s a laugh whilst you watch it.

The use of the Korean State Ballet was no doubt a well intentioned attempt at the time to bring a touch of oriental authenticity to proceedings. Now their presence, although well executed, sits rather uneasily against the echt-Austrian character of the rest.  Given the long stretches of narration too many will find the need to use subtitles – though why words are oft’n abbreviat’d I do not know or see the necessity for it. And why is the narration recorded in a noticeably different acoustic to the musical numbers?

As with the predictable and sometimes cringe-inducing production, so it is with the musical direction. The rits can be seen coming a mile off, though this fits perfectly with Wolfgang Ebert’s old school view of the score. All in all, he over-sugars the confectionery to make it palatable on too many occasions. The orchestra and chorus contribute knowingly, lushly giving life to Lehár’s musical lines. I found it interesting to note how much was made out of so little source material in this respect, something that I was not conscious of before.

In my view this release is a curiosity despite Kollo’s contribution.

Evan Dickerson



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