Review-The Land of Smiles- Opera Hong Kong


By: Rachel Barton


The Land of Smiles is a strange opera. It's based on the Chinese principle of smiling through life, no matter what happens. Written by Austrian composers Franz Lehar, Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner-Beda, it's a short piece about East meets West love but lacks many authentic feelings in the dialogue. It's a Chinois piece, so felt at times like a Western country playing Asian and at times came across very dated in the same way Flower Drum Song does.


A short operetta, it's only about 90 minutes long, so this is an apt choice for bringing children to the opera for the first time or spouses who hate three hour productions of The Ring Cycle. Is it the best opera I've ever seen? Far from it and let me explain why.


Opera Hong Kong has done a great job at making the leads feel expensive. The main characters Countess Lisa (Sabina Cvilak) and Prince Sou-Chong (Won Whi Choi) are supposed to be royalty and are dressed to perfection. The set and lighting around them doesn't fufill the fantasy world of Vienna or China in 1912. It might have been a wiser choice to go with a symbolic setting rather than one so realistic. The flaws and inconsistencies in the background characters' costumes and set dressings were too plentiful and far too easy to point out. It was such a shame to see the leads dressed so well and everything around them coming across cheap. It was almost like they had put together random pieces from past productions. 


The main cast members (especially Cvilak and Choi) are very talented performers and sang their solos with depth and enthusiasm. However, I found myself less than impressed with the chorus work and smaller group numbers in this production. They lacked the vibrato, emotion and enthusiasm found in the solos and I found myself bored by their lack of connection to us as audience members. There were also moments when performers in the chorus were very out of tune with one another.


Ticket prices range from the very affordable 100hkd to 680hkd. Would I pay the top range for this production? No. Would I buy the cheap seats? Yes, because the talents of the leads are worth that. I also found out a recording of this production will be playing for free on RTHK's website later next month. If you're really short on cash, see it online. Opera Hong Kong has put great effort into this production. It's a shame it didn't come to greater fruition but my thoughts are the script was holding them back from the start. 


The Land of Smiles is playing through Sunday. For more information, click here.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 2.4


  • Gina
    09 May 2015

    This review doesnt begin to describe how painful sitting through this opera was. 90 minutes couldn't end fast enough.
  • Tim K.
    09 May 2015

    Is the reviewer Chinese or know much of this Cantonese style? Or is he another white man who's clearly found himself on the wrong side of the planet.
  • Rachel
    12 May 2015

    My race shouldn't reflect my comments. Audience members don't enjoy seeing stereotypes on stage regardless of their own race. I like to see a more natural representation of the characters. Doesn't take a Chinese person to tell you Flower Drum song is outdated and that Mickey Rooney's performance in Breakfast at Tiffanys is racist.

    I don't think Opera Hong Kong was trying to get a Cantonese style but show China. I didn't need red walls, tacky lanterns and dragons to achieve this.
  • brenda
    12 May 2015

    I can hardly believe that this is the same company who brought us the excellent Flying Dutchman a year or so back. Yes, two good voices in the leads (the Korean tenor was very good) but why cast Cheng Yong, a fine young tenor, in a comic non-singing pastiche of a Chinese eunuch? And why the Chinese opera makeup? Surely servants in China didn't wear makeup, especially opera makeup? The chorus were blocked badly and weren't allowed to make use of the space. Why the wriggly strip tease from the Prince's sister?

    This is a lovely story and it's a shame that it wasn't presented with simplicity and respect. Cultural differences make for poignant situations and it was all there in the story if only it had been treated gently.

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