The Land of Smiles | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Land of Smiles


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West meets East in The Land of Smiles (1929), the wildly popular operetta from Franz Lehar's second (and unexpected) creative phase, which is distinguished by the touching showcase arias written especially for the matinee idol Richard Tauber. The plot involves the familiar triangle of two men of contrasting temperament in love with the same beautiful young woman, but here the twist is that one of the suitors is a Chinese diplomat. By setting the action in both Vienna and Peking, Lehar finds a plausible excuse to mix a heavy dose of chinoiserie with Viennese schmaltz. The result, musically at least, is a lighter, worldlier, and more romantic version of Madame Butterfly; the unhappy ending, instead of being tragic, has that quintessential Viennese touch--the wise acknowledgment of sacrifice, sorrow, and regret. As social commentary--and despite its stereotype orientalism--The Land of Smiles is often biting, with class differences subtly transposed to misunderstandings between two alien cultures. Best of all, it features "Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz," that heartrending (and show-stopping) tenor aria that was Tauber's indelible trademark. In this long-awaited revival, produced by the excellent Light Opera Works, the principal roles are essayed by Carol Ann Edwards (as Lisa), Norman Engstrom (Prince Souchong), and John Horton Murray (Gustl). Music direction is by Peter Lipari, and stage direction by Philip Kraus. Tonight and Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 2 PM, Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University, 600 Emerson, Evanston. 869-6300.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.

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