“The Land of Smiles” in Shanghai

Erika Papp Faber

“The Land of Smiles” in Shanghai

Left: MŰPA ; cast at end of performance in Shanghai (photo: MŰPA Budapest); Shanghai Grand Theater; Káel Csaba. Right: Lehár Ferenc (photo: MTVA Sajtóadatbank); score of the most famous aria from Land of Smiles

The Shanghai Opera, in collaboration with the Budapest MŰPA (Művészetek Palotája) staged the production on November 28th to great popular acclaim.  Originally titled ”Land des Lächelns”, its success was due not only to the appealing music, but also to the fact that the artists themselves came from two different cultures: the Chinese characters were sung by Chinese singers, while the European characters were sung by European artists, visually reinforcing the operetta’s theme.   

While the Director, Conductor and Stage Designer were European, the 200 costumes were made in a Chinese workshop under the supervision of a Chinese costume designer.

The Director, Káel Csaba, explained:  ”This wonderful operetta spoke to the heart of the Chinese audience: they were able to experience personally the unusual meeting of two cultures... they could identify with the Chinese melody as imagined by Lehár that was sung by (Princess) Mi, or the world-famous melody ’You are my heart’s delight’ by Prince Sou-Chong, since Lehár’s music has amazing strength, it’s fantastic to listen to.”  

The Shanghai Opera will add ”The Land of Smiles” to its repertory, and it plans to take it on tour throughout China and Europe.  It will be performed in Budapest with similar casting in February of this year.  (In 2013, Shanghai and Budapest became "twin cities".)

”The Land of Smiles” was first performed in  Berlin in October of 1929.  It was one of Lehár’s later operettas.

Lehár Ferenc (1870-1948) was born in Komárom.  His father was a military bandmaster in the Austro-Hungarian army, his mother was Hungarian, of German descent. Ferenc himself spoke only Hungarian until age 12.

He studied violin at the Prague Conservatory, then joined his father’s band in Vienna.  Later, he became bandmaster at Losonc, Hungary and several other places.  In 1902, he became conductor at the Vienna Theater an der Wien, where his operetta "Viennese Ladies" was performed that same year.

Lehár composed over 30 operettas (six of them specifically for Richard Tauber’s voice), three operas, and several musical comedies (Singspiele). Probably the best known of his operettas is ”The Merry Widow”. 

He married Sophie Paschkis, who was Jewish, and it was only through the intervention of  Joseph Goebbels that she was spared.  In 1940, Lehár was elected honorary citizen of Sopron. 

He died in Bad Ischl, Austria in October of 1948.  The father of our Editorial Board member Eva Wajda was in Bad Ischl at the time and attended Lehár's funeral.

On a personal note:  I saw ”The Land of Smiles” in Hannover, Germany, probably in the winter of 1946.  It was performed in a makeshift theater, and we sat in our coats for the entire performance, since the place was not  heated.  It was sometime before my eighth birthday, and I was mesmerized by the gold and yellow costumes, the scenery, the music. In the context of those bleak post-war years, this was sheer magic!  I was hooked on operettas for life!