Prinz Orlofsky, how do you do that thing you do

Prinz Orlofsky, how do you do that thing you do

What makes a rocking Prinz Orlofsky? Let’s give this issue our undivided attention.

Here’s Die Fass.

Timbre: the right shade throughout, that is, on the dark side. The little spikes/screams: blend well, don’t interrupt the flow. Tempo: comes close to too fast, some wording divides syllables into beats (note the en-nuy-iert which is almost staccato). Stage movement: excellent. Masculinity: excellent. The slight dust of femininity necessary: yes. The oddball factor: yes, and done well. Chalk the last four under Good Acting. Diction: native language so goes without saying. I don’t remember how her Russian accent was in the spoken part, I need to get hold of that DVD again. (It’s the legendary Carlos Kleiber-Otto Schenk production) No other way to put it but: Hotness: through the roof.

Now let’s look at Troyanos.

Timbre: Not too sure about this one… it sounds too sopranic to me. Also at the beginning there are bits that sound very nasal. The spikes: Belong a little too much. The whole thing sounds spike-high. Stage movement: very little. The masculinity-femininity ratio: excellent. The oddness: some. Diction: good fake Russian in the dialogue. How was her German in the aria, German-speakers? Hotness: yes.

Here’s Malena Ernman as Orlofsky. Vodka is out, madeira is in:

Timbre: Hmm. On average, good. But the lowest notes are unlovely, and higher up there are moments of the Dame Edna colour. Tempo: in comparison to Fassbaender’s — noticeably slower, which is to my liking (maybe I want Orlofsky’s aria to last a looooong time, all right?). Stage movement: excellent. Masculinity: save for the hands, complete. The femininity spice: none. And herein the problem. Prinz Orlofsky is not about the best male impersonation. There needs to be a slight remainder somewhere that signals, this is a woman being very masculine while singing this oddball aria. You can argue that the mezzo range provides enough signaling that way. I don’t think that’s enough. Anyway, I’m still trying to explain it to myself why a perfect male impersonator Orlofsky (or any other trouser  role, for that matter) isn’t what the role is about. Maybe the convincing male makes the situation more neatly hetero? I don’t know. The oddness: excellent. Diction: excellent Russian undercurrent in the spoken dialogue. Hotness: um… no.  Too weirded out to be attracted. Extra: the ornamentation! In her round two, Ernman does some very neat fioritura. Gorgeous, and unexpected.

Two other versions which are waaay out to lunch: ROH’s ’84 Fledermaus with the Orlofsky wrong in just about every possible way; Agnes Baltsa in Theater an der Wien in ’99: tsk tsk tsk.

Now, I have one joker left in this game, but you can’t see it because it’s not on YouTube. I bought this Met Opera Gala 1991 DVD just so I could see Anne Sofe von Otter as Prinz Orlofsky, even if only in Act II and as part of a Gala and not in a regular performance. These Met galas are a strange business. ASvO’s Prinz was the only person on stage under 65 (she was in her mid-30s) but stood out in countless other ways. The timbre was consistent and confident, on the lighter side but not exceedingly so, the diction perfect as usual, the acting mischievous. Gender play was… well, imagine this hybrid: a Scandinavian slalom skier and a young Boris Becker. Then imagine that creature is a woman. Whatever languid femininity ASvO’s manner brought to the role (there’s some of that), the height, the colossal handsomeness of the woman tipped Orlofsky permanently to the masculine side. But you have to see the DVD to understand. There’s exactly 11 seconds of her Orlofsky here, starting at 1:01.

But where was I? Yes. Who is the ultimate Orlofsky, then? The polls are open. I’m torn between von Hotter and FassGender-Bender.

Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein,
Man lebt bei mir recht fein,
Man unterhält sich, wie man mag
Oft bis zum hellen Tag.
Zwar langweil' ich mich stets dabei,
Was man auch treibt und spricht;
Indes, was mir als Wirt steht frei,
Duld' ich bei Gästen nicht!
Und sehe ich, es ennuyiert
Sich jemand hier bei mir,
So pack' ich ihn ganz ungeniert,
Werf' ihn hinaus zur Tür.
Und fragen Sie, ich bitte
Warum ich das denn tu'?
'S ist mal bei mir so Sitte,
Chacun à son gout! 	

Wenn ich mit andern sitz' beim Wein
Und Flasch' um Flasche leer',
Muss jeder mit mir durstig sein,
Sonst werde grob ich sehr.
Und schenke Glas um Glas ich ein,
Duld' ich nicht Widerspruch;
Nicht leiden kann ich's wenn sie schrein:
Ich will nicht, hab' genug!
Wer mir beim Trinken nicht pariert,
Sich zieret wie ein Tropf,
Dem werfe ich ganz ungeniert,
Die Flasche an den Kopf.
Und fragen Sie, ich bitte,
Warum ich das denn tu'?
'S ist mal bei mir so Sitte
Chacun à son goût!

33 thoughts on “Prinz Orlofsky, how do you do that thing you do

  1. Your contest is so much more detailed than mine ❤ Love it…

    My favourite Orlofski is this one, Agnes Baltsa.

    It is the scene, the aria is at 3:00 vaguely.

    So… my unasked-for opinion:

    Tempo: close to perfect. It has the right, slightly lazy feeling traditionally associated with Hungarians — if they make operetta appearances that is. On the other hand, not too slow please — as Hungarians are supposed to have the exact right mixture of temprament and chill-out-factor, also mirrored in the aria’s lyrics… Summary of wich in English would vaguely be: “I like it when my guests have a good time, really, just to entertain myself, because ,.. /che noia/… but! if someone starts to do the worst thing to me, worse than annoy me… if he BORES me, now then I lift him up by the sleeves and throw him out.”

    Diction: I put that second, because it is closely related to the tempo the piece is sung in. I admit it, I am German, and there is a certain way Hungarians speak German, and, related to that, some pecularities. They stress the end syllables too broadly, they don’t make a difference between open and closed vowels (hell vs. cat, vaguely, but much more… makes a difference like in Italian e and è — it changes the meanings of some words too, the same way as it does in the Italian example.), so all e/ä end up as ä, the open version. Also they have this lazy tone of voice that comes along with these traits.
    — it shadows the language darker by the changed color of the vowels, and
    — it kind of flattens the sentence in melody (lovely pictured in the “und sehe ich, es ennuyiert… “) and pace (“Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein,”, every syllable on a new beat, all the same length.)
    Most versions are too flawlessly German in diction, funnily — especially if sung by foreigners. Baltsa does great, this is exactly how a well-educated Hungarian speaks German ❤

    Masculilinty: kinky! I love it.
    Dust of femininity: out of question!
    Oddball factor: unusual to see a Orlofski in a robe — and Baltsa with a moustache — it is highly becoming, though, I find!
    Hotness: hawt hawt

    To the others: Troyanos is my favourite. I grew up with the Faßbänder staging on television on New Years Eve… She is vocally almost perfect, but I agree, it is far too fast. And she has a certain “altbacken” … frumpy? air around her in the role, imho.
    Ernman is too male, which is not necessarily a drawback — but her voice won’t fit the appearance. On top of that, she just doesn’t make a sexy Orlofsky, unfortunately.

    1. La Fass frumpy!? Well, Lankin, you’ll have to come over to Toronto and we’ll then have to take it outside! 🙂 This is a glove in my face! No other option but a duel! I’ll meet you at dawn in the Junction. My secondant will send you the coordinates.

      As for the rest. That is a valiant defense of Baltsa! Which I classified as one of those that don’t work for me up there. Have you seen that production, what is the idea behind the staging? Orlofsky is a pop star, or something? Her costume is a huge turn off — actually, there’s no costume, just the teenage-kid mustache. I can’t find any fault with her singing, but the rest…

      And you know how some opera singers and actors have a default facial expression? Unless they make an effort, they always end up displaying it. Mireille Delunsch always looks depressed. Agnes Baltsa always looks like she’s about to curse. Here too, she has the Baltsian grumpy air.

      1. “…Baltsian grumpy air.” ENGARDE!
        I would reply in an Operetta with planned Shakespearean ending: “Dafür verlange ich Satisfaktion!”

        And, many Hollywood actors do perfectly well with one facial expression in total. About a famous German actor, Till Schweiger, there was a joke for about a year, vaguely: “Headline, Breaking News: Second Facial Expression Detected At Till Schweiger! Experts At A Loss.”

        And if the facial expression is of such a lovely grumpiness… ❤

        I don't know the whole production, and yes, Orlofsi seems to be a kind of rockstar. It has the air of a no-budget school production, where they kept the concept of the minimalist staging, but suddenly got money… I don't much like it, but couldn't tell unless I see at least a larger scrap of it.

  2. Nice post!
    Re the tempi it is of course always the conductor and never the singer who is head of the Fledermaus
    (in terms of the opera/operetta-) business. Thus please do not blame Fassbaender for Kleiber and *please* don’t you blame Kleiber for Kleiber ;))!
    Troyanos German accent is close to perfect – I think – but nevertheless it sounds artificial.
    Re ‘Ernman’s’ “extra” I am not at all d’accord; this is operetta, not a Baroque da capo aria.
    And as to Lankin’s comments on Orlofsky: hmmmm sorry but according to the libretto and the score he is a young, rich, bored Russian prince. The only „Hungarian“ in this piece is Rosalinde pretending to be a countess from Hungary in Act II. But I agree: Baltsa sounds like a well-educated Hungarian with a Greek and a “Carmen”-background ;)!
    Working in music business I can’t really vote for a favourite Orlofsky, and I could not listen to the von Otter seconds, but I admit my God of music was – and still is – Carlos Kleiber … .

    1. Kleiber-chef! Will this be like Callasiani long after Callas died — they’d go to other sopranos’ concerts just so they could yell “Brava Callas!” Maybe it’ll be “Bravo Kleiber”, no matter the context? 😉

      I’ll only disagree about the embellishments: if they work, they could be used in various contexts. In many contexts they won’t work, true, but in this operetta confection I welcome them.

      1. Sorry, Callas-fans but Kleiber is a lot better than Callas ever was ;-). Don’t try to rescue me – it’s *hopeless*!
        Don’t worry, Lankin, as Orlofsky probably would say: „Irrrren iiissssst maaehnsssschlich“ or something similar ;-).
        An re the embellishments: sorry to disagree, DtO: they don’t work in this Vienna operetta.
        They might work in a French operetta but I am not too sure about it.
        They definitely work in Baroque music but *here* they are nothing but “emrubbishments”. Apologies for my musicological arrogance ;-(.

      2. Dear bergerchef
        Agreeing with the embellishments. I have to remember the term “emrubbishments” — though I have an unpuritan approach to musical styles in general.

        Here they really won’t work. The one thing I dislike more in the aria — preferrably done by counter tenors when they sing it — is when they change the “Auftakt…” (my English concerning musical expressions is limited I just notice… pickup? upbeat? “Ich” lade gern … etc… ) to a lower note, taking away the expressiveness and the hinted yawn at “Zwar langweil’ ich mich…”, etc.

      3. Here’s a question for you. Why would Adele be allowed to embellish her aria ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ minutes later in the same operetta, and the Prinz wouldn’t? It doesn’t make any sense.

        I haven’t looked at Rosalinde’s Heimat aria closely, but I can bet you a bottle of Tokaj she’s allowed some freedom with it too.

  3. Hmpf! Yes, I have to admit, he is supposed to be Russian … Confused him with Rosalinde there.
    Russian and Hungarian makes a similar accent in German though, but different from Polish e.g. — Thank you for pointing it out! ^^

  4. Hm not sure about the Heimat aria, but I don’t favour embellishments in the “Mein Herr Marquis” aria either, it is perfect the way it is, imho. But, as in all things in life, the “how” matters a great deal^^

  5. I am sorry I apparently lost the thread over a busy weekend. It seems this blog switched from Fledermaus- to bike-embellishments ;-). In case it still is of any interest and in case the two of you meanwhile did not duel yourselves (swords, guns or bicycles, ladies? 😉 :
    I did not intend to say embellishments are not “allowed” for Orlofsky but allowed for others in that piece.With one or two exceptions this would not make any sense.

    Embellishments or rather “ornaments” serve as “decoration”. They are not necessary to carry the line of melody and harmony. They were used especially in Baroque instrumental music due to the fact that harpsichord and similar instruments could not really sustain long notes because the piano pedal as we know it was not yet invented. If a piece was written in the “da capo style” it became very common for performers to play or sing the first part more or less unornamented and later to “decorate” it in order to make the performance more vivid and to show that one could perform in a virtuoso manner. Sometimes the composers themselves indicated ornamentation in the score.
    As far as I know the score of “Fledermaus”, Johann Strauß in general did not indicate ornamentation.
    Regarding “Mein Herr Marquis” as well as “Klänge der Heimat” – both arias are “theatre on stage”: here Adele as well as Rosalinde pretend to be somebody else. Adele, pretending to be an artist, has to “proof” that she is a virtuoso. Thus I am pretty sure (but I don’t have the score on my desk) that Strauß proposed these ornaments in her aria.
    Orlofsky does not pretend that he is somebody else, thus the ornaments Ernman does (or has to do) do not make any musical sense. I assume they were done to show that he is under the influence of too much Tokay, Vodka or Champagne. To my mind that is something the stage direction should show without needing the help of adding something to the score.

    P.S. re the “Auftakt”, dear Lankin: I assume you indeed mean the upbeat or pickup (in the American English) and there are only very few countertenors I like as Orlofsky, even though Kleiber used one in one of his recordings ;-). Thus : again no disagreement: it’s best with a (dark) mezzo !

    1. Nah, we didn’t duel…. yet… (*writer defiantly humming “Fará la mia spada” under her breath, deliberately with all sorts of embellishments at the da capo.)

      You are perfectly right, of course. A pleasure, too, I have to say, to find people who will even engage in an argument like that 🙂

      Er, as we all agree, well… sort of; can’t we all watch some nice uncontroversial “Gia dagli occhi” together, if something like that exists? Would be a pity if we wasted our lives in a pointless duel… (*Maybe I’m just a coward, my sabre skills are lacking…. )

      1. I was going to ask, Sabres or pistols, but I see you chose your weapon of choice.
        En garde! The Knight of the Fassbaender Armour salutes you!


        Clink — clink — dodge — duck — clink — thump — clink — clinch.

        Unclinch. (Hollywood fencing, obviously.)

        Faster tempo: clink-clink-clink-clink-clunk?! (what on earth are you wearing?!) – clink-clink-jump on the table, jump off the table- clink-clink-clink (I’d rather sit down with a cuppa and have somebody translate this Swedish version of The View for me: — no, anybody speaks Swedish in the audience? no? oh all right, continuons) clink – clink – clink.

        (Have you seen Disney’s cartoon The Reluctant Dragon, by the way?)

  6. Prets.
    *shy question — Till first blood?

    *the squire withdraws into a safe corner not to get accidentally hit, and leans on the pike with the slightly inappropriate coat of arms — depicting Randle’s raven’s wing nicked from Oberon, Connoly’s baton from Serse, and Jaroussky’s sabre from Giulio Cesare.

    squire: *picking his nose until he gets a scornful glance from his knight. *Oh heck, if she had sabre skills to match her spirit at least, I wouldn’t be so worried.

    Knight of the Holy Order of the Sacred Philippe Jaroussky: *can read your thoughts, and what is worse — you are right.


    Duck — clink — Hey, I can bear a hit on my body, but please not on my newly acquired breeches! — Thud — Dodge — Clang.

    ***no I don’t speak swedish, but a friend of mine is Swedish, I can give you his msn. He likes opera singers too, as long as they don’t sing, he says. He can at least give you a….


    *** …summary.

    *opponent’s blade narrowly missing ear.

    …No I don’t … What are you implying,… reluctant?
    *Fiercly thinking “… e smorzi col sangue l’ardore e l’ardir, l’ardore e l’ardir!”

    Oh, come on, let’s call it a draw… *got no chance anyway.

  7. What is this? Inducing a fit of giggles in the opponent so as to undermine him? Very clever, Jaroussian.

    *rather fancying the coat of arms, actually… hmmm, what craftsmanship!*

    Clink! Chink! Tinkle! (Do send the Swedish chap this way, or I’ll give you my email to forward.) How about a drink break? Yes? Alrighty. Sit down, take a sip. This is from my estates in Burgundy. Some vassal unrest there lately, but the vines must go on, as they say in that other business.

  8. *carefully eyeing around, trying to make an estimate of the situation, reaching the conclusion there is a narrow chance that neither of the wine-glasses has poison in it, though this is conflicting with the basic rules of drama in opera. Gratefully taking a sip, grimacing, expecting the bitter taste of death to hit the gums; the expression softens as it dawns on the Knight — it tastes indeed great.

  9. No, no Swede in your audience, but in my network, though maybe that Swedish friend can check : the talk is about faith in relationships, especially in partnerships between artists. They chat about dependence, trust, jealousy and aging.
    The old lady is a pianist and the ex-wife of Igmar Bergman. She says she likes being a single, being able to make plans without being considerate of anybody, like e.g. doing a (or going to a) concert in Paris. At the end the talk is about nowadays correspondence and about the pros and cons of emails. Von Otter wonders about future biographies and how they can be written without the existence of letters as reliable academic source.
    My suggestion: treat e-mails as letters and thus enhance the style of modern correspondence!

    Thanks for the hint to the reluctant dragon. Can’t wait to see the two of you in a poetry-duel ;-).

  10. Oh this thread is now nothing but pure joy. Wine all around.

    Chef: I suspected it was about things of that sort! I am dying to get somebody to translate it to me. I can finally agree with you 100 %: we should treat email as proper correspondence. However, with the 20-somethings, email is already somewhat archaic. Even longer Facebook email is on its way out. We’ll see how it develops in our lifetime. I intend to cultivate the art of (email) letter! And even traditional letter in some special cases. Friendships require more than text msgs.

    We should also add our electronic traces to our end-of-life decisions, don’t you think? Put all the passports in one page, give the page our post mortem e-deputy with clear instructions: this stuff of significance; this other stuff, mindless nonsense. But once you’re out, all’s game, I’m afraid. People can write stuff based on your shopping lists and doodles taken during meetings.

    (Unless, of course, your executor is Stephen Joyce, or the Beckett estate. In which case, they will do nothing but sue people into silence.)

  11. Yeah – the rest is silence … . Nevertheless I think 21rst century manner of
    correspondence desperately needs stylistic enhancement !

  12. I have… kind of er… *secret number* of roleplay blogs and forums I host myself, most of them with a friend, so even an untimely decease is no problem as such, concerning that matter. Said friend of mine and I found at some point it would be a pity if the lovely emails woud end in the trash after three months or die in the next inevitable hdd crash. So, blogs are the thing 🙂

    If you want, I can also link an example, but not on this site, as I seperate the stuff I am doing and am rather peckish about my pen-names.^^

    And… I actually write letters, in ink. For roleplay, as well as in real life. With ink and quill, actually. *cough

    Random example of hardcore-rp…

    Well, write me an email, and I can share you the msn and/or email of the swedish guy I know.
    Mine is public in wordpress anyway, or should be:

    *sipping wine, musing…

    But tell me, what is this Reluctant Dragon you talked about just before? curious^^

    And, agreed. Email is definitely unstylish.

  13. Ink and quill? Liaisons Dangereuses? I daren’t ask. But that is a handsome-looking, Valmont-ian handwriting.

    The Reluctant Dragon… if you’ve never heard ‘Ode to the sweet little upside down cake’, you’ve missed things in life. (A lot of camp mostly, mind.) Le voila: Possibly the only gay character Disney ever had, and one of the cult ‘toons in Communist Yugoslavia. Dubbed by a woman, but you can’t have the sweet little upside down cake AND eat it too.

    I’ll drop you a line re the Swedish man of mystery.

  14. Well, Madagascar is openly gay too, is it not. Alec, I mean. Who has a quarrel with his dad, because Alec is a dancer, rather than a fighter, which is not what lions are supposed to be, according to his father’s unasked-for opinion? With the whole plot only about this guy fighting for his dad’s respect who has to acknowledge in the end that Alec is perhaps not matching his own picture of an ideal son, but has other, no less valuable qualities? I like it a lot. ^^

    Not so openly gay, perhaps, for the lack of potential partners for Alec who stays single, but still — filed in the category “flimsily concealed subtext.” Alec makes the average Benjamin Britten lead role appear to be deeply heterosexual in comparison.

    … just listened into the link. The narrator is quite gay too .. or is it just supposed to sound posh — will watch it with my daughter this afternoon ❤

  15. Hi all!

    Thanks for all this Orlofsky analysis! I was just researching how one might add a Russian accent to the German aria text. Is that something that is often done?

    Here is me performing the aria in English this past spring at Westport Country Playhouse. I’m open to constructive feedback.



  16. *giggle* Looks like tremendous fun! And look at that Tom Selleck ‘stache!

    As far as I know, mezzos often try to work in some Russian accent to the aria and spoken dialogue. This is the first time I heard Orlofsky in English–but yours is very plausible!

    I’d better not suggest anything because whatever you hear from anybody, you’ll have to drop it for whatever the director tells you… So just have a blast. (This aria is probably one of the most entertaining there are for any voice, seems to me)

    1. Thanks so much for reading! Mmm, good idea about Cherubino and Octavian. I think when it comes to Octavian, people get very touchy about *their* Octavians, so the sparks would fly! Disagreements over Cherubino would probably be less inflammatory. I will rake the sands of YouTube.

      An online friend (Purity McCall, where are you!) once argued that Cecilia Bartoli’s was the first Cherubino with curves and, you know, discernible breasts. If that’s the case, it’s a huge milestone. I heard an interview with Christa Ludwig in which she remembers that she had to diet severely before each of her Cherubinos.

      We could go more obscure and search for *the* Tancredi, or Maffio Orsini, or that wonderful role for the mezzo in Anna Bolena (name escapes; Tamara Mumford sung him in the MetHD production) but they’re not the cult breeches roles to the degree of Cherubi’ or Octavian are, mos def.

      1. Very interesting topics ahead !

        I myself have been comparing ASvO’s Octavian with Fassbaender’s for a few weeks now and still can’t decide on a “winner”. This exercise is particularly interesting since both are from the “same” Kleiber/Schenk production… only 20 years apart.

    1. The Rattle-Otter Cleopatre? Never! I wish it was available somewhere. There aren’t even clips on the Toob.

      The Davis-Otter one, I think I saw a very old version of, transferred from VHS. Somebody sent me the file via dropbox or something. The one in which von O sports something of a mullet? She’s much too young, kinda aloof in that one, though of course the singing is good.

      1. you know I’m resigned to the fact that no one will ever be the full package all at once, but she probably comes closest.

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