The Land of Smiles

An operetta in three actschicago folks operetta

Music by Franz Lehar

Based on the story by Viktor Leon

Libretto by Ludwig Herzer & Fritz Lohner-Beda

English Translation by Hersh Glagov & Gerald Frantzen

Produced by Chicago Folks Operetta

At Stage 773, Chicago

“I’m not singing operetta – I’m singing Lehar! -tenor Richard Tauber

Major artistic achievement unfolds with an English translation of Franz Lehar’s popular The Land of Smiles

The creatives at the Chicago Folks Operetta specialize in translating Viennese and Berlin operettas from German to English – then mounting them in intimate venues (here at Stage 773). I have seen terrific productions of The Cousin from Nowhere and The Circus Princess by this talented troupe. As fine as those were nothing prepared me for their exquisite, world-class production of the second  most popular operetta of all-time –The Land of Smiles. (second only to Lehar’s The Merry Widow).

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Chicago Folks Operetts’s new English translation (from German) of The Land of Smiles marks the first production of Smiles in Chicago in 25 years. This is a landmark production; an exquisite artistic achievement; and a beautifully sounded and sung operetta. Each artistic element contributes to a wonderful, lavish and lovable theatrical experience. From the 20 piece orchestra conducted by Kim Diehnelt to the wonderful set designed by Ian Zywica to the fabulous video projections by Liviu Pasare with terrific rear-screen images and personal silhouettes to the vivid and unique costume designs by Kate Kamphausen- all thses elements contributed to make The Land of Smiles an artistic splendor seldom seen on a Chicago stage!

chicago folks operetta

Add the nimble direction by Elizabeth Margolius that coordinated slow march entrances with the expressive choreography by Todd Rhoades with the casting of  professional singers from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Symphony Chorus with Equity and AGMS talents and The Land of Smiles sings magnificently. The outstanding dancers adds depth to the mood and celebrations of the work.

The cast of 17 players made the production look larger especially with the projections. Set in 1912, the story tells of   Lisa (the soprano Chelsea Morris) the Austrian princess who marries a Chinese diplomat Sou-Chong (the tenor Geoffrey Agpalo). This romantic operetta covers the courtship in Vienna then travels to China with a look at the traditions and pageantry of  Imperial China. Franz Lehar’s score pays tribute to Oriental sensitivities as it suggests Chinese melodies. Fused with an assortment of classic operetta styles and several hauntingly romantic duets as well as moving and cute arias, The Land of Smiles is a superbly sung affair.  Geoffrey Agpalo and Chelsea Morris sing their hearts out and they create a romantic spark that is contagious. Miss Morris golden soprano is richly evocative while tenor Geoffrey Agpalo emotes deep emotions in his haunting arias. With terrific vocals from Zachary Elmassian’s Gustl (Lisa’s Austrian lover) and the cute Chinese princess Mi, sung nicely by Christine Bunuam, The Land of  Smiles contains world -class singing worthy of any opera production.

chicago folks operetta

The story fuses the cultures of  pre-World War I Austria and the last days of Imperial China that suggest nostalgia. This production is vivid, melodic, stunningly staged, uniquely danced and splendidly sung. The audience is close up to the action and since the singers were not amplified, we hear each note as all lyrics were clearly projected  by the singers. Sung in English makes the meaning clearer. The 20 piece  orchestra work effective with the singers without overpowering them.  The technically flawless production sure made the romantic story come to life. The unusual ending to The Land of Smiles was a departure to the standard operetta format. It is most appropriate to the story.

The Chicago Folks Operetta company is a true treasure since they specialize in bringing the wonders of German operettas to American audiences with their English translations and their exquisite productions. How they mount such creative and technically outstanding large cast shows (with 20 piece orchestras) for  such low ticket prices – $35 ($40 for the first row!) and $30 for seniors/students/ children 12 and under is a mystery? With many storefront shows at $30 more more and musicals and operettas a such high prices–it is a joy to see such world-class entertainment for a basic price of $35 per ticket.

Get to Stage 773 to experience a true treasure–The Land of Smiles by the fabulous creatives at Chicago Folks Operetta.  You have only 9 more performances left–it closes on July 14–trust me on this–The Land of Smiles will surely have you leaving the theatre with a broad SMILE on you face! This is one of the finest productions of the year!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, Il. tickets $35, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through July  14, 2013

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