About this Recording
8.111016-17 - LEHAR: Land des Lachelns (Das) (Ackermann, Schwarzkopf) (1953) and excerpts from Lehar Operettas

Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles)

In the twilight of his career Franz Lehár aptly commented: ‘I think an operetta should never lose contact with human feeling or ideas. This is the secret of its impressiveness which, arousing emotion, is more profound, serious and purer than the effectiveness of what is nothing but a show’. Such an observation is certainly true of his operetta Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles).

Generally considered the most significant operetta composer of the first half of the twentieth century, Franz Lehár was Hungarian born, though his greatest successes were achieved first in Vienna and latterly in Berlin. Son of a bandmaster, the young Lehár entered Prague Conservatoire at the age of fifteen, later joining an orchestra, before enlisting in the Army and becoming its youngest bandmaster at the time. Based at Pola on the Adriatic he was able to hone his orchestral techniques through the opportunity of conducting the orchestra in the country’s only outlet to the sea.

It was the great success of Lehár’s waltz Gold und Silber (Gold and Silver), composed for Prince Metternich’s eponymous opera ball in January 1902, that revealed his talents to a wider public. On leaving military service he was first employed as a conductor at the Prater in that summer, followed by employment as a Kapellmeister at the Theater an der Wien in the autumn. Around this time he composed his first serious operetta Wiener Frauen for the rival Carltheater in December 1902, the news of which forced his resignation from his conducting position. Now Lehár had the opportunity and independence to pursue a full-time composing career. Three further operettas followed before the appearance of Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) in December 1905. The worldwide success of this new work made the composer’s name known internationally. It continues to remain the composer’s best-known stage work a century later. Further operettas before the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 followed, Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count of Luxembourg) (1909), Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love) (1910) and Eva (1911).

The break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the end of hostilities in 1918 together with the introduction to Europe of new styles of popular music from the American continent, seemed to inhibit Lehár for a short period of time. Success returned when the highly popular Austrian tenor Richard Tauber (1891- 1948) appeared in a Salzburg production of Gypsy Love in 1921, soon followed by the new Frasquita in Vienna the following spring. Lehár would then compose six further operettas over the ensuing decade for the unique voice of Tauber. These would include songs, duets and ensembles but also what became known affectionately as the ‘Tauber-Lied’. These operettas were Paganini (1925), Der Zarewitsch (1926), Friederike (1928), Das Land des Lächelns (1929), Schön ist der Welt (1931) and Giuditta (1934). The subject matter and story-line for these works may have appeared rather sentimental, even old-fashioned at the time, but Lehár was astute enough to create unhappy endings in some of these works, something which hitherto had not occurred in Viennese operetta.

In 1935 the composer founded his own publishing house Glocken Verlag in Vienna in order to have more control over the performance and the availability of his works. He even acquired the rights of his earlier works from publishers to whom he had earlier sold the copyright. His seventieth birthday was celebrated in Nazi-occupied Vienna but other than that he lived quietly with his partly Jewish wife away from the public gaze. His principal musical activity during this time was a series of radio broadcasts of his operettas that have happily come down to us. Moving to Zurich in 1946, where his wife died the following year, Lehár then returned to his Austrian villa at Bad Ischl, dying there in October 1948. The building is now a museum to the composer’s memory.

When one examines any Lehár score it is immediately evident that the composer was a superb creator of melodies, but also a composer who was able to develop his musical language over the years from 1902 until 1934, something that is certainly far from the norm in the world of operetta and musicals of that time. His use of the Viennese waltz is always obvious, but it is the skill in his orchestration, something he alone always undertook, that is very much his own. He was also adept at employing local atmospheric colouring in his scores. For example, notice the differing orchestral effects he employs in the first act of The Land of Smiles, set in Vienna, as against that of China in the two remaining two acts. It is most effective.

The vocal highlight of The Land of Smiles, incidentally a reworking of an earlier 1923 operetta Das Gelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket) but to a new libretto, has to be the melting “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” in Act 2 as sung by Prince Sou-Chong. Other equally memorable songs are Prince’s “Immer nur lächeln und immer vergnügt” and “Von Apfelblüten einen Kranz”, the charming duet “Bei einem Tee”, all from Act 1. From Act 2 there is the love duet “Wer hat die Liebe”, Mi’s delightful “Im Salom zur bl’n Pagode”, the Mi/Gustl duet “Meine Liebe”, and the bitter but poignant duet between the Prince and Lisa “Ich bin dein Herr”. All these are preceded by the Overture, which is a splendid potpourri of the principal melodies.

Made in 1953, this was the first complete recording of The Land of Smiles, of which The Gramophone magazine wrote, the following year: “The principals all excel in sentiment. [Schwarzkopf offers] perfection of performance … Loose is the ideal soubrette … Gedda sounds young and caressing … Kunz’s charm … and Kraus imparts the right touch of sternness. The orchestral playing is pointed and colourful”.

In the rôle of the Chinese prince Sou-Chong is the Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda (b 1925). His versatility has always been considered remarkable in that he has sung in and can speak seven languages. Born in Stockholm of a Russian father and Swedish mother, a bass member of the Kuban Don Cossack Choir and later cantor at the Russian Orthodox Church in Leipzig, he was trained at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. He made his début at the Royal Opera in Stockholm in 1951 in the première of Sutermeister’s Der rote Stiefe, followed by the rôle of Chapelou in Adam’s Le postillon de Longjumeau in April 1952, an occasion that brought him to international attention. After taking part in the first Western recording of Boris Godunov under Dobrowen (Naxos 8.110242-44), Gedda made his La Scala début in 1953 as Don Ottavio and the Groom in the première of Orff’s Il trionfo di Afrodite. The following years saw him appear at the Paris Opéra (Huon in Oberon), the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Covent Garden (the Duke in Rigoletto), Salzburg Festival (Belmonte in Die Entführung) and the Metropolitan in New York as Gounod’s Faust. In 1958 he created the rôle of Anatol in Barber’s Vanessa, which he also gave in Salzburg. He first sang Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini at the Holland Festival in 1961, which he later repeated at Covent Garden in 1966, 1969 and 1976. He also appeared in Russia in 1980-81 to great acclaim. His London concert-hall début took place in 1986. He sang at the Met for 22 seasons in 27 rôles in 289 performances. He was still recording as recently as 2002. Gedda has proved the most versatile lyric tenor of his time with a vast discography covering every conceivable aspect of the repertory.

The rôle of Lisa is sung by the German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (b. 1915), wife of the recording producer and impresario Walter Legge (1906- 1979) whom she married in 1953. She studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and later with the soprano Maria Ivogün, making her début as one of the Flowermaidens in Parsifal with the Städtische Oper, Berlin, in 1938. Originally a lyrical soprano she undertook rôles such as Adèle in Die Fledermaus, Musetta in La Bohème and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos when she joined the Vienna State Opera under Karl Böhm in 1943. Her first overseas appearance was with this company on their visit to London in 1948, when she sang Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and Marzelline in Fidelio. She later joined the fledgling Covent Garden Company where for five seasons she sang a variety of rôles, mostly in English. Alongside these appearances, Schwarzkopf sang at the Salzburg Festival (1946-1964), La Scala, Milan (1948-1963), San Francisco (1955-1964) and, finally, at the Metropolitan in New York in 1964. She was greatly admired in the rôles of the Marschallin, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, and Donna Elvira. She also had a distinguished parallel career as a Lieder singer in the concert hall. She recorded a number of operetta rôles including Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus and Saffi in Der Zigeunerbaron. Also to be found on CD2 are two recordings of Schwarzkopf’s voice made at the start of her career.

The Austrian baritone Erich Kunz (1909-1995) was assigned the rôle of Lisa’s admirer Gustl. Born in Vienna, he studied with Professor Lierhammer and the baritone Hans Duhan. Making his début as Osmin in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail in Troppau in 1933, he spent the summer of 1935 as a member of the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus. This was followed by periods in Plauen (1936-37) and Breslau (1937-41) before joining the Vienna State Opera in 1940. Two years later followed his Salzburg Festival as Figaro. The year 1943 saw Kunz at the Bayreuth Festival singing Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger, a rôle he would repeat in 1951. He visited London in 1948 as a member of the Vienna Company, singing Leporello, Figaro and Guglielmo. He sang the latter rôle on his return to Gylndebourne in 1950. His years at the Metropolitan in New York were between 1952 and 1954 when he sang 22 performances of four rôles, Beckmesser, Leporello, Faninal and Figaro. He again sang in London with the Vienna Company in 1954. Kunz was a fine Mozartian with an engaging stage manner. He was also admired in operetta and Viennese songs.

The rôle of Mi is sung by the Austrian soprano Emmy Loose (1914-1987), who was born in Karbitz/Aussig (on the Elbe) in Bohemia. Educated at the Prague Conservatory, she made her début in 1939 as Blondchen in Die Entführung aus dem Serail in Hanover. Two years later she was engaged by the Vienna State Opera to perform Ännchen in Der Freischütz. She sang there for 25 continuous years as a lyric and coloratura soprano. Loose also appeared regularly at festival seasons in Salzburg, Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence and Bregenz, in addition to engagements at La Scala, Milan. She appeared at Covent Garden in London with the Vienna Company in 1948 and as guest with the resident company, singing Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Susanna in Figaro during the 1949-50 season. She also sang in Japan and North and South America. From 1970 she taught at the Vienna Academy of Music. Emmy Loose was admired in the operas of Mozart and Richard Strauss, a number of which she recorded.

For the rôle of Tschang the Czech-born but later naturalised British baritone Otakar Kraus (1909-1980) was selected. Born in Prague, he studied with Konrad Wallerstein before moving to Fernando Carpi in Milan, making his début as Amonasro in Brno in 1935. He was a member of the Bratislava Opera from 1936 to 1939 but with the outbreak of the Second World War Kraus eventually came to Britain, later joining the touring Carl Rosa Company in 1940. As a member of the newly formed English Opera Group in 1946, he created Tarquinius in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne, later taking the rôle of the Vicar in Albert Herring, and Lockit in Britten’s realisation of The Beggar’s Opera. He joined Netherlands Opera for the 1950-51 season in addition to creating the rôle of Nick Shadow in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in Venice later that year. This was followed by 22 years as a member of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. There he sang most of the principal baritone parts in addition to creating Diomede in Walton’s Troilus and Cressida in 1954 and King Fisher in Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage the following year. He sang Alberich in The Ring at Bayreuth between 1960 and 1962. Whilst not endowed with the greatest of voices, Kraus was a superb singing actor who was greatly admired for his make-up skills. He retired in 1973 to teach.

The recording’s producer Walter Legge had originally wanted Karajan as conductor for his series of operetta recordings but he declined. Then he turned to the Swiss-naturalised Otto Ackermann (1909-1960) who proved to be an outstanding interpreter. Born in Bucharest, he first studied there at the Royal Academy of Music before moving to the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where his teachers were Georg Szell and Leo Prüwer. At the age of fifteen he conducted the Royal Romanian Orchestra while they were on tour, before accepting a position in the Opera House of his native city for the 1925-26 season. He was appointed a Kapellmeister at Düsseldorf Opera in 1928 and in 1932 moved to the German Opera in Brno. This was followed by an appointment in 1935 to the Municipal Theatre in Berne, where he remained until 1947. Between 1949 and 1955 Ackermann worked regularly at Zurich Opera in addition to the Theater an der Wien between 1947 and 1953. Then followed three years as Music Director at the Cologne Opera. He returned to Zurich in 1958 but soon became seriously ill, dying in 1960. Ackermann was a fine conductor of both opera and operetta in addition to being admired as a sound Mozartian.

The appendix to the complete recordings offers a number of rarities, the names of some of the performers well known, others now almost forgotten.

The Austrian-born soprano Irene Eisinger (1903- 1994) was born in Kosel, Silesia, and studied in Vienna before making her début in Basel in 1926. She joined the Vienna State Opera in 1930 and also appeared at the Salzburg Festival between 1930 and 1933. Forced to leave Germany, she sang at the German Opera in Prague during the 1933-34 season. She appeared at Glyndebourne between 1934 and 1939 and again in Edinburgh with the company in 1949. Her rôles included Despina, Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, Blondchen in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. Additionally, she sang the rôle of Polly in the 1940 London production of The Beggar’s Opera. Eisinger was a fine coloratura soprano and an excellent soubrette, as was witnessed by her Gretel, and Adèle in Die Fledermaus (both sung in English) during the 1936 Winter Season at Covent Garden. From 1938 onwards she lived in London.

The American-born soprano Dusolina Giannini (1900-1986) studied first with her father and later Marcella Sembrich. After making her début as Aida in Hamburg in 1925, she sang widely throughout Europe over the ensuing decade before first appearing at the Metropolitan in New York in 1936. She recorded for HMV both in Italy and Germany during her European years. She died in Zurich.

The German soprano Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976) studied in Berlin prior to making her début as the Third Boy in Die Zauberflöte in Hamburg in 1910. She first sang in London in 1914 and became a regular at Covent Garden between 1924 and 1939. Enjoying a long association with the Vienna Staatsoper she also sang widely throughout Europe and in the United States, where she settled before the outbreak of World War Two. Lehmann was a fine Lieder singer whose career lasted until 1951 when she became involved in teaching in California in addition to giving master-classes in London. She was a most distinguished artist, a fine actress and an inspiring teacher.

The soprano and actress Jarmila Novotná (1907- 1994) studied first in Prague, later in Milan. She made her début in 1925 with Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and also made her film début that year with the Czech silent movie Vyznavaci slunce. She later sang in Verona, Naples and Berlin. She lived until 1933 in Berlin, where she had also launched a successful film career. She moved to Austria where she met Lehár who engaged her for the leading role in Giuditta. Eventually Novotná went to England where she appeared in the film The Last Waltz in 1936. She moved to the United States and sang at the Metropolitan Opera in 1940, becoming an American citizen. She later appeared on Broadway and eventually appeared in the films The Great Caruso and The Great Waltz. She retired in 1956.

Esther Rethy (1912-2005) was born in Budapest, where she initially studied before moving to Vienna. Three years after her début she appeared as Marguerite opposite Jussi Björling’s Faust at the Staatsoper in Vienna. She later sang at the Salzburg and Bregenz Festivals, continuing to perform until 1972. Her 1940s recordings with Lehár conducting reveal a gleaming soprano voice ideally suited to operetta.

The Rumanian tenor Leonardo Aramesco (1898- 1946) enjoyed a successful career in Germany, working in Essen, Berlin and Munich in addition to Vienna and Prague. He was a regular boadcaster who also made a small number of recordings. He later moved to the United States and died in New York.

The tenor Rupert Glawitsch (1907-1971) enjoyed a longish career, almost exclusively in the worlds of broadcasting and operetta, principally in Graz, Hamburg and Vienna. His lyric voice was particularly suited to the microphone. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf recalled half a century later how helpful and reassuring he was in their duet recordings.

The Danish tenor Helge Rosvaenge (1897-1972) was virtually self-taught. He made his début at Nestrelitz, Germany in 1921 and it was in Germanspeaking countries that his career was primilarily based. Singing at the Staatsoper in Berlin between 1930 and 1944, he also sang in Salzburg (1931-38) and appeared in London at Covent Garden in 1938 as Florestan in Fidelio. His United States début took place in recital at the age of 65, when he astonished his New York audience with his still bright tone and brilliant top notes. He recorded extensively over nearly four decades.

The Austrian-born later British naturalised tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948) sang widely throughout Europe between 1913 and 1938. A member of the Staatsoper both in Berlin and Vienna, he became increasingly associated with the operettas of Lehár after 1922. He was popular in films in Germany prior to 1933, when the Nazi régime forced him to leave before eventually moving to Britain. A fine conductor, Tauber also composed a number of vocal and orchestral works. His vast recorded legacy covered virtually every aspect of vocal music.

The Belgian-born tenor of German parents Marcel Wittrisch (1900-1955) sang widely throughout Germany over three decades from 1925. In addition he sang at Covent Garden in London in 1931 and the title rôle of Wagner’s Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1937. His post-war career was largely based in Stuttgart. His many recordings display a voice not that dissimilar to that of Tauber, especially in the many examples of operetta.

Malcolm Walker

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