I have a DVD of the 2008 Moerbisch performance of Im weissen Roessl (The White Horse Inn). You too can see it. It is online here. My DVD has English subtitles but the online version is in German only.
Moerbisch is a small lakeside town much visited as a summer holiday resort which has a huge auditorium for stage plays of various sorts. The auditorium was packed for the performance I saw, as it usually is.
For a start the 2008 Moerbisch performance was sponsored by ORF (Oesterreichischer Rundfunk; the Austrian State broadcaster) and they seem to have supported a resolution to make the show the definitive version of the operetta. Money seems to have been no object. They must have had a hundred "extras" among the performers and both the sets and the costumes were elaborate. And they made a point of hiring singers who were also good actors and good looking. The ladies were gorgeous and the character actors were brilliant in filling their parts.
The many versions of the play over the years that have been performed do differ quite a bit, and this one also has its custom adaptations. The play by now has been put on so often by so many that it has no "Masoretic" text. The famous Robert Stolz "Goodbye" song, for instance (Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier) is only heard in English language versions of this show. In German, it occurred originally in an operetta Die lustigen Weiber von Wien, which now seems to be known only in a movie version ("The Merry Wives of Vienna") but it was later interpolated into movie versions of this show too.
It is difficult to pin down the period in which the show is set. Kaiser Franz Joseph appears in it and he died in 1916 so one imagines that it is set in the late 19th century. But "Dr Siedler" at one point uses prominently a 1950s rangefinder camera -- and there are other minor anachronisms -- such as the strange vehicle at the beginning of the show, not to mention the sportscar driven by Sigismund der schoene. And the national anthem was not anything that Franz Joseph would have known. In his day the tune was the old Haydn tune later appropriated by Germany for the Deutschland Lied. The play premiered in 1897 so I assume it was meant to be contemporary and the anachronisms are the work of opinionated later artistic directors.
The plot is so complex, with everything intertwined, that I doubt that I can say anything useful about it. There is the main theme of the head waiter mooning after his very attractive landlady and the second theme of the lawyer being completely smitten by the gorgeous daughter of the haughty Berlin businessman -- but late in the show a third couple pop up, when a poor professor and his shy daughter encounter another very confident Berliner. The complexity makes for a lot of laughs and some good arias. And there are, of course, three happy couples at the end.
Somewhat to my surprise and satisfaction the Austrian monarchy is treated fairly sympathetically. I had expected a modern producer to satirize it in some way. The Kaiser (played by Harald Serafin) is presented as very frail but he probably was at the time the play was written. And he is portrayed as mentally sharp and kindly. He is also portrayed as thanking people a lot, which is true to life for Royalty. And he very clearly seen by his subjects not just as an old man but as a symbol of the country, which again is right. The only element of satire I saw was to portray him wearing a helmet with bright GREEN plumes, but he has done that before so it apparently amuses him.
Intendant Harald Serafin as usual gave himself a part -- as Kaiser -- and he always does his parts well. I think he is a naturally jolly person and something of that always comes through. His nearly falling down the ladder was a good humorous touch. And the consternation that produced in his "subjects" was also very convincingly done. I think he did particularly well in this show. Though his best performance in my view was in Das Land des Laechelns, where he portrayed wonderfully well the sadness of a father sending off his beautiful daughter to a dubious fate. He normally does not give himself anything very tragic to portray but he can certainly do it.
And I wonder who wrote the wise words that he put in the hotel register. They really were wise words IMHO.
Both the leading ladies were very easy on the eye. Whoever thought of pouring the busty Zabine Kapfinger into a dirndl to play the part of the Wirtin (landlady) certainly knew what would look good. Harald Serafin could not quite keep his eyes off her cleavage when she was leaning over him. Nor could I, for that matter.
Trying to fend off her unwelcome admirer
Zabine Kapfinger is actually a pop and folk singer in real life so her voice was a little thin at times but she is a brilliant actress. The show was hi-tech so we saw lots of close-ups of her face at times -- and all her expressions were spot-on for the role. She played perfectly someone unlike her real self, I gather. But perhaps not so unlike. Below is a picture of her in real life with a lucky man -- her husband. Note those Austrian blue eyes -- celebrated at length in the operetta itself (in the song, Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau).
A small point about those blue eyes: Blue eyes were at that time and place seen as a sign of Treue -- Faithfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty. You could rely on a person with blue eyes. There is also a mention of blue eyes as loyal towards the end of Die Lustige Witwe by Lehar. It has got me wondering if there is something in that. I can think of a reason why there could be something in it: Blue eyes are cold-climate eyes and co-operation is probably more important to survival in such climates. And trustworthiness is important to co-operation.
And the ultra-feminine Anja Katherina Wigger (pronounced Vigger) as Otti was rather mesmerizing in her looks and performance. I think a tall slim and attractive blonde who is also a good operatic soprano is something of a rarity. Sopranos do tend to weight after a while. And Wigger got her notes effortlessly. So she is definitely one of my favourite operatic sopranos. Go to the 36 minute mark on the video and also the 46 minute mark to see her in action.
I am actually rather soppy about Wigger. I like the way she speaks as well as the way she sings. Her amused Ich eile ("I am hurrying") immediately before she encounters the hilarious herd of cows sounds very expressive to me. And her scream when she encounters the cows is as feminine as you can get.
And Sigismund der schoene, as the egotistical but aging playboy, was a manic touch. And the poor Professor and his daughter in the luggage compartment was a good light-hearted touch of another sort: Self-confidence finally overcomes shyness.
But my favourite character in the operetta was Herr Giesecke. He was the relentlessly negative curmudgeon who appeared throughout the show. He had great laugh lines and Klaus-Dieter Lerche delivered them brilliantly. I laughed at them every time even after I had heard them over and over again. There were jokes throughout the play but Herr Giesecke was basically one big joke. All his appearances were funny.
The continuity people goofed with him, however. In the course of two days his moustache went from white to black and then back to white again!
But a lot of what Herr Giesecke said was allusive. You had to know what he was referring to in order to get the joke. So I thought I might mention a few of those things from just one of his scenes. The North/South rivalry in the German lands often seems to get some mention in operetta and here it was played out at length. In Germany the stern "Prussians" (Northerners) look down on the more relaxed Southerners but the Southerners don't care one bit about that. They know that they have the culture so the North is welcome to its soldiers.
So Herr Giesecke made a great point out of his view that he should have gone to Ahlbeck rather than the Salzkammergut (Austria's beautiful lake district). Ahlbeck is an island just off Germany's Baltic coast and the Baltic is a pretty rough body of water. It is grey and stormy a lot of the time. The Baltic coast is reasonably passable in summer but nothing like the lush Salzkammergut.
And in denying that the Salzkammergut was better than North Germany he made some hilarious comparisons. In saying how regions near Berlin where he lives were as good as areas in the Salzkammergut he said at one point: "What about Spandau?". What about Spandau indeed! Spandau is a suburb of Berlin and I am sure it is well kept but the only thing notable that I know about it is that a large prison was long located there (now torn down).
And he also praises the Stoelpchensee as comparable to the Austrian lakes. The Stoelpchensee is one of a string of small lakes connected by canals to the South of Berlin. But they are often not much wider than the canals as far as I can see. Again a foolish comparison. And one of his best lines comes after he praises the Lueneburger Heide, a much loved heathland area of North Germany. The Wirtin asks him: Do they have mountains there? He replies, "No; but if we did they would be higher"!
That was quite a big and jolly scene but he crops up later in the play as well. At the very end when all the couples are happily together he appears and says that in Berlin they would call that knutschen -- "smooching".
Something the Ober (head waiter) said at one point is also rather obscure. He asks Herr Giesecke if he wants to dudeln. Dudeln is the Viennese word for yodelling but in slang it means to have a few (alcoholic) drinks.
And in her yodelling song, the Wirtin (Kapfinger) mentions her beloved Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Erzherzog Johann (Archduke John), who died in 1859. In English we call the place "Styria"? How ugly! And how needless. There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name. If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark.
And all performances at Moerbisch seem to incorporate a complaint about the local mosquitoes. It is a bit of a game to watch for the mention of them to pop up. There were two mentions of them on this occasion: A penalty of the Moerbisch stage being located on the marshy shore of a lake, of course. Pest control can obviously not quite cope.
I think I have finally got the chorus of the theme song into my head but how long the words will stay there is a question. The words are:
Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee,
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"
But I think I should just note something about the German nicknames in the play for those who know no German. German constructs its affectionate nicknames in a way rather different from what we do. With us a "Joe" or "Joseph" becomes "Joey". But in Southern German it becomes "Seppl". How come? Southern German concentrates on the last part of the name so the "sep" at the end of Joseph or Josef has the diminutive "l" added to make "seppl". And Josepha in the play becomes "Pepi" or "Peperl" and Leopold becomes "Poldi".
And North German does it another way again. So "Klara" becomes "Klaerchen". The play includes both Northerners and Southerners so you see both approaches in it.
Finally, perhaps I should apologize for adopting the English custom of referring to Im weissen Roessl as an operetta. The credits rightly describe it as a Singspiel, a play with singing.
The words and translation of "Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein"
Was mein Herz zu sagen hat, What my heart has said,
Fühlst auch du, you feel too;
Was die Uhr geschlagen hat, what hour the clock has struck,
Weisst auch du. you know too.
Und hast du kein Ohr für mich, And if you will not listen to me,
Finde ich keine Ruh’, I shall find no peace,
Drum hör zu, drum hör zu. so listen, listen.
Sag’ ich es in Prosa dir, klingt es kühn. If I say it to you in prose, it sounds bold.
Das ist nicht das Rechte für mein Gefühl. That is not right for my feelings.
Aber, wenn die Geigen zärtlich für mich fleh’n But, if the violin sweetly pleads on my behalf,
Wirst du gleich mich versteh’n: you will understand me:
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein. full of floral scents and sunshine.
Wenn beim ersten du, ich mich an dich schmieg, The first time that you and I cuddle up,
Braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik. my heart will need sweet waltz music.
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein. sweetly intoxicating, like champagne.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, „Ich bin dein“, And the song which says, ‘I am yours’
Kann doch nur ein Wiener Walzer sein. can only be a Viennese waltz.
Wenn der Liebe Lust und Schmerz einen packt, When Love bundles pleasure and pain together into one,
Schlägt ein jedes Menschenherz seinen Takt! every human heart beats its own rhythm!
Jeder singt für sich partout Everyone everywhere sings their own song
Und auch der Text dazu heisst: and that’s what the old saying means:
„Chacun à son goût!“ ‘Each to their own!’
Einer gibt den grössten Reiz der Gavott’ One is most attracted by the gavotte;
Und der and’re seinerseits liebt mehr flott! another prefers, for his part, to love more quickly!
Und es wechseln Moll und Dur, And it switches minor and major keys;
Ja, c’est l’amour. Aber ich sage nur: yes, that is love. But I say only this:
Mein Liebeslied… My love song must be a waltz…
And I can't resist putting up here the words for the wonderful "Goodbye" song:
Und eines Tages mit Sang und Klang Da zog ein Fähnrich zur Garde Ein Fähnrich, jung und voll Leichtsinn und schlank Auf der Kappe die goldene Kokarde
Da stand die Mutter vor ihrem Sohn Hielt seine Hände umschlungen Schenkt ihm ein kleines Medaillon Und sie sagt zu ihrem Jungen:
Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiss mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu. Sei das Glück mit dir
Stehe gerade, kerzengerade Lache in den Sonnentag Was immer gescheh'n auch mag Hast du Sorgenminen, fort mit ihnen Ta-ta-ra-ta-ta Für Trübsal sind andere da
Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiß mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Sei das Glück mit dir Adieu, Adieu mein kleiner Offizier, Adieu