Waltzing Till Midnight
New Year's Day Grand Viennese Ball
January 2007 - Portland
On New Year’s Day His Imperial Highness Prince Orlofsky hosted a Grand Viennese Ball at the Scottish Rite Center. 150 attendees began the New Year in old Vienna, waltzing until midnight to the romantic melodies of Johann Strauss, performed by a seventeen piece orchestra. After a Champagne reception the ball commenced with a polonaise, quadrille, and opening waltz that were performed by ten young couples in flowing white dresses and black tailcoats. In addition to Viennese waltzes, polkas, a grand march, galop, and the Fledermaus Quadrille, attendees also joined artists from Portland Opera Studio in singing highlights from Die Fledermaus.
The greatest gift that we can offer others is a willingness to share that which we most love. In my particular case, I must admit to an inordinate fondness for the elegance, magic, and romance of a Viennese ball, perhaps matched only by my enjoyment of the exuberant fun and overflowing melodies of the Strauss operetta “Die Fledermaus.”
Over the past several years I have attended (and assisted) a number of Viennese balls in the US, UK and Vienna, all of which were well-intentioned, and several of which were actually quite elegant and authentic. I have also enjoyed creating the VienneseBall.org website, which contains reviews, interviews, images, and video for those who enjoy waltzing until dawn.
It was therefore only natural that I recently found myself seriously contemplating the prospect of putting together a Grand Viennese Ball that would be themed on Die Fledermaus. And it was almost mandatory that this Viennese ball should be scheduled for New Year’s Day, considering the long-standing tradition of Strauss concerts from Vienna on that date when there is a total lack of comparable local events. It was an opportunity to bring together the very best from the classical music, dance, opera, and Austrian communities. And for many couples, it was a most unique and ideal Christmas present.
The first requirement for a successful ball is an elegant ballroom with a sufficiently large (more than ten square feet per attendee) unobstructed dance floor. With the prohibitive cost of portable wooden dance floors, carpeted ballrooms were not a realistic option. The ballroom of the Scottish Rite Center was the clear choice.
Dinner was another major faux pas that we managed to avoid. In order to make sure that tables did not occupy all of the dance floor, we served Champagne, beverages, and dessert at the ball, and arranged an optional pre-ball dinner party, only a few blocks away at the Governor Hotel. With very few tables in the ballroom, there was ample seating for everyone without consuming a significant fraction of the dance floor.
Because there are already so many excellent opportunities for general ballroom dancing in Portland, we decided to focus on Viennese dances that are not already commonly available everywhere. The dance program included 9 full length Viennese waltzes, 5 polkas, a slow waltz, galop, grand march, and the Fledermaus Quadrille #6.
In order to do justice to the beautiful waltzes of Johann Strauss, we selected a small but representative orchestra with 10 strings, 3 woodwinds, 3 brass, and piano. We used a few strategically placed condenser microphones in the strings and woodwinds to compensate for our limited number of musicians.
Although our budget was quite limited, Hugh Ewart, retired concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony, recruited a talented orchestra with several exceptional musicians in critical positions such as first violins. (WARNING: It doesn’t take a surgeon general to determine that Strauss, played marginally, can be hazardous to your ears!). He and I spent many hours in preparation, listening to recordings, assembling the required music, and finalizing details such as tempo, introductions, and repeats. He also did a marvelous job of making the most of our very limited rehearsal time. For most of the ball Hugh stood up like Johann Strauss, leading the orchestra from his violin. He was able to make sure that the waltz tempos were almost idea for dancing and also played several solos.
For the opera portion of the program Stefan Minde very kindly offered to conduct. However, when a very unfortunate medical emergency arose, Robert Ainsley of Portland Opera offered to step in at the last minute and did a wonderfully spirited job conducting Liebeslied, the Fledermaus Quadrille, Bruderlein Fein, and the songs from Die Fledermaus.
Although some of the music was ordered from Doblinger in Vienna, all of the waltzes were generously provided for our use by Norman Leyden, Laureate Associate Conductor of the Oregon Symphony. The orchestra score for Die Fledermaus was loaned to us by the Columbia Symphony. Also, Professor Uwe Theimer, music directory of the Vienna Opera, kindly provided us with his beautiful arrangement of Bruderlein Fein for a traditional conclusion of the ball.
In keeping with our theme, we included as much music from Die Fledermaus as was possible: the Thunder and Lightning Polka, Fledermaus Quadrille, Du und Du Waltz, and Fledermaus Polka. In addition, we included vocal performances of songs within each orchestra set.
With kind and helpful information from Thomas Elmayer of the Tanzschule Willy Elmayer-Vestenbrugg in Vienna, and the staff of the Vienna Opera Ball, and working in conjunction with Rachel Lidskog, a very talented PSU dance instructor, I had already successfully put together an opening ceremony for the Oregon Symphony’s Viennese ball in September.
For New Year’s Day I again worked with Rachel, who recruited ten talented and very hard-working young couples. With a very limited amount of rehearsal time, they put their hearts into mastering a grand polonaise, all six Fledermaus Quadrilles, and a simple, elegant opening Viennese waltz sequence. The teamwork and determination of these young people was superb. When a cleaning woman prematurely kicked us out of our rehearsal space, everyone enthusiastically assembled in the parking lot, I popped a CD into my car audio system, and we spent almost an hour out in the cold, mastering the remainder of the quadrille. It is not every day that one has the pleasure and fun of working with such a highly-spirited group!
At the ball all of the young women looked stunning in beautiful long white dresses and opera-length gloves. All of the young men were quite handsome in white tie, tail coat, and white gloves.
In the opening ceremony, our “Prince Orlofsky” made his official entrance, followed by our distinguished guests:
from Portland Opera: Sara Jane Patterson
from All Classical 89.9 FM: John Pittman, Robert McBride, and Edmund Stone
from the Austrian American Society: Ilse Kamin
The formal welcome was first read in German by Ilse and then in English by Edmund.
In order to prepare attendees for this event, I taught six free two-hour dance lessons in December at several different locations in the Portland area. Each of these lessons was a stand-alone introduction that covered the:
In order to make sure that as many attendees as possible would be able to waltz at the ball, I decided to teach the 19th century waltz instead of the modern Viennese waltz. It was a very natural progression after the galop and polka, and most people were successfully waltzing (at reduced tempos) by the end of each lesson.
For true devotees of the modern Viennese Waltz, Rachel taught a four lesson sequence in December that was quite helpful for several aspiring members of the opening ceremony as well as others.
With no more than 150 attendees and 60x60 feet of open ballroom, there were never any moments where couples could not waltz. Because we were quite successful in attracting a number of single attendees as well as couples, we included a number of mixers so that everyone had the opportunity to dance.
At the ball we used the orchestra breaks to assemble the Grand March and for a final walkthrough of the quadrille. For the grand march we successfully completed several tunnels and merges to eight abreast, setting up for a massive spiral, when the conclusion of the music was reached.
The Fledermaus Quadrille #6 was especially popular. We performed it four times. Each successive time it was faster, and was enthusiastically greeted with stomping, wild applause and shouts of “Faster!” from all of the attendees. It was followed by the galop, which resulted in tunnels that ran the full length of the ballroom.
However, judging by the outspoken applause and cheers, the most popular moments of the evening were the performances of several songs from Die Fledermaus. These songs were positioned in the middle of each orchestra set and provided a welcome momentary break from the demands of dancing.
Sara Jane Patterson of Portland Opera provided us with five marvelous young artists:
mezzo-soprano Kendra Herrington as Prince Orlofsky,
soprano Amber Opheim as Adele,
tenor Heath Rush as Gabriel von Eisenstein
baritone Chris Clayton as Dr Falke, and
bass Jeff Beruan as Frank.
Because this is not Vienna and a few attendees might be unfamiliar with the scandalous wit and humor of Die Fledermaus we felt that it would be a crime to not sing it in English. To further assist, we also added a few breif narrations.
Edmund Stone introduced the first song “Come with me to the Ball” which was a duet performed by Chris and Heath:
Ladies and gentlemen, some of you may still remember a famous incident, several years ago, where two prominent citizens, Herr Gabriel von Eisenstein and Dr Falke, attended a costume party that ran very late into the night. Dr Falke, dressed as a bat, had far too much champagne and asked his best friend, Herr Eisenstein, to assist him in making his way home. The next morning Dr Falke instead woke up on a park bench, still sporting the bat costume, resulting in widespread public ridicule that quickly became the talk of Vienna.
This evening we take you to the home of Herr Eisenstein, whose overgenerous sense of humor has recently landed him a judicial invitation to spend the next eight days in jail. Just as he is about to say farewell to his lovely wife, Rosalinde, he is greeted by the arrival of his old friend, Dr Falke, who insists that Eisenstein first lift his spirits by first attending our ball, hosted by decadent Russian Prince Orlofsky, before reporting to jail tomorrow morning.
In the second orchestra set Kendra sang “Chacun a son gout,” which offered us an insight into the trials and tribulations of being a rich, decadent prince. Our choice of the Martin translation provided us with some particularly delicious lyrics:
There’s not a sight I have not seen,
No place I have not been.
There’s not a thing beneath the sun,
I haven’t heard or done.
There’s not a price I cannot pay
No sum I can’t afford,
But I have never found a way
To keep from getting bored!
I do not care for music much,
Not even Johann Strauss,
The operetta I hate most
Is called “The Fledermaus,”
If you don’t like it either,
you know what you can do:
Get up and leave the theatre,
Chacun a son gout.
Edmund Stone then introduced “My Dear Marquis” (the Laughing Song), sung by Amber:
Adele, one of Herr Eisenstein’s chamber maids, is surprised and elated to receive a letter that appears to be signed by her sister, Ida, insisting that she get the night off, “borrow” one of Rosaline’s elegant ball gowns, and join her here at our ball where she will be introduced as an up-and-coming actress.
At the ball Herr von Eisenstein is shocked to see one of his chamber maids, Adele, dressed in one of Rosalinde’s best gowns. Adele is equally surprised to see her master, a married man who is supposed to be in jail, instead chasing young women under the assumed title of Marquis Renard. When Eisenstein openly confronts Adele, her response is to act insulted and amused.
In the last orchestra set all five singers were joined by attendees in singing the Champagne chorus, which included:
A toast, A toast, A toast!
His majesty we celebrate, celebrate, long and late.
Joyously together, Champagne, the Great!
A toast to Champagne, the great Mon---arch!
Finally, Chris brought down the house when he was joined by the other artists in singing “You and You,” which even brought on some kissing in the ballroom.
For a very first event, we had a wonderful mix of attendees of all ages and backgrounds. We were particularly fortunate that Sally Lewis of All Classical 89.9 provided media sponsorship for our event. Edmund Stone, John Pittman, and Robert McBride all spread the word about our event on the air and helped to attract a large number of classical music lovers. In addition, Julie Diamond of Skies American helped us to create beautiful announcements for the ball in the OBT Nutcracker and Portland Opera programs that helped us to reach additional attendees.
By popular demand, it appears very likely that we will be back again next year.
In addition, on April 21st we will be organizing a Victorian Dinner Party in honour of the birthday of HRH The Queen. Live music for the evening will be fashioned after Last Night of the Proms concerts, and will include an opportunity for everyone to stand up and sing Rule Britannia!
For the Portland Rose Festival in June we are planning a large ball that will be themed on the ballroom/patio scene from the Sound of Music. Before the ball there will be a family-oriented concert by “Maria” and “Captain von Trapp” that will also include a dance lesson for children.
For October we are planning a Phantom of the Opera Ball. Beware of falling chandeliers!
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