„Operetta, as the younger sister of Opera, is a genre that from the beginning had both admirers and enemies. They have fought, at all time, either for her assertion or for her slander, with a devastating passion. Franz Lehar, an ardent defender and a composer of great refinement, sought, through his creation, to demonstrate the very close connection between Opera and operetta. “The Land of Smiles” is the composer’s most valuable creation and, at the same time, an exception within the genre, that exception, which is meant to confirm the rule. It is the only Operetta that has a sad ending. Instead, his music, under its melodic beauty, hides operatic complexities, and the depth of the characters and the relationships between them is amazing.
Together with the director Anda Tăbăcaru we tried to highlight the dramatic force of this work. I imagined a show that would contain a special nostalgia for the exoticism of culture and Chinese civilization. We wanted to emphasize the radical difference between the two fascinating worlds, each in its own way. The focal point of European education, represented by imperial society Viennese of the early twentieth century is at an extreme pole of the tradition, customs and life of East China. Without seeking to make a historical reconstruction, the two worlds differ both by the chosen range of colours, as well as through the totally different atmosphere of the stage image. If the Viennese area is full of severe elegance, containing a variety of combinations of black and white, with a few accents, given more brilliance than other colours – gold and silver having only an ornamental role – the eastern area abounds in colour, especially red, imperial colour, holiday, used often at wedding rituals. The symbol we have chosen to represent East China is the image of gilded ancient masks mixed among the traditional statuettes of the great Chinese sages. They bring the weight of thousands of years of culture and civilization, of a very special land and very difficult to decipher, for us Europeans.
Far from wanting to make a cinematic reconstruction, the costumes seek to have the special splendour of the Chinese Imperial Court, through the classic hanfu (Chinese kimono), characterized by strong and richly ornamented colours. A special moment is the chorus scene from second act. Here, the Chinese people are treated as a real force, using the effect of the black colour and using the mask symbol again, to multiply the number of chorus members, emphasizing the weight and massiveness of the musical writing.
The prologue and the epilogue that we thought together, have the role of clarifying the relationship between the two characters of the drama, each representing such different worlds, Lisa and Sou-Chong. We have imagined that they meet again after 30 years, after each has taken his own path. This reunion makes the distance between them even clearer, bigger, harder. Just the smoke of nostalgia, the memory of a love story, spent in his youth. The exaltation of that time does not lead to any end. In a setting that suggests the interior of a museum, the costumes belong to the era of time of the Second World War they intertwine with the oriental exhibits in the shop windows, and the main characters, now aged, are found face to face. Her elegant suit, in step with the fashion of the time it accentuates the enormous distance of time, created compared to the same hanfu she had worn 30 years ago.
Our intention was to create a lively, true show, full of romance, with humorous accents and tragic encounters, ingredients specific to the Operetta. The colour of the stage image is what forms the air that unites these ingredients, just as music gives importance and weight to dramatic situations”
PhD. Arh. Cătălin Ionescu Arbore – scenographer of the National Theatre of Operetta and Musical „Ion Dacian”.