→ Auftragswerk der Wiener Staatsoper

Libretto Catherine Filloux und Olga Neuwirth

Olga Neuwirth’s music theatre opens a door into the realm of what has been simultaneously experienced, read and heard, of what is known and felt – in other words, into the realm of fiction shaped by memories. “Ever since I was a child I have been interested in everything from the arts to politics, from the sciences to human psychology (…) I have let myself be inspired by the small and big things that the world has to offer, by the wonderful diversity of life, and I see this reflected in Orlando. For it is a love of oddities, of the paradoxical, the grotesque, virtuosity, exaltation and exaggeration that are the essence of this fictional biography, which aims to create a new morphology of narration. At all times it is also about (…) a sophisticated and highly subtle form of sexual attraction that rejects being pigeonholed in any one gender. As well as about refusing to be patronised and treated in a condescending manner – something that continually happens to women, with no end in sight.”

The libretto for Orlando is based on the novel by Virginia Woolf (1928).

14. December 2019
19.00 - 22.15
1 intermission
Werkeinführung 30 Minuten vor der Vorstellung im Gustav Mahler-Saal
18. December 2019
19.00 - 22.15
1 intermission
Werkeinführung 30 Minuten vor der Vorstellung im Gustav Mahler-Saal
20. December 2019
19.00 - 22.15
1 intermission
Werkeinführung 30 Minuten vor der Vorstellung im Gustav Mahler-Saal

Cast 14.12.2019

Conductor Matthias Pintscher
Libretto Catherine Filloux Olga Neuwirth
Director Polly Graham
Set design Roy Spahn
Video Will Duke
Costume Design Comme des Garçons
Haarkreationen Julien D'ys
Masken Comme des Garçons Stephen Jones
Lighting Design Ulrich Schneider
Movement director Jenny Ogilvie
Live Electronics und Sounddesign Markus Noisternig Gilbert Nouno
Sounddesign Clément Cornuau
Klangregie Julien Aleonard
Videoprogrammierung David Butler
Director's Assistant Andrew Bewley
Videoassistenz Hayley Egan
Videoanimation Patryk Senwicki
Dramaturge Helga Utz
Orlando Kate Lindsey
Narrator Anna Clementi
(Guardian) Angel Eric Jurenas
Queen/Purity/Friend of Orlando's child Constance Hauman
Shelmerdine/Greene Leigh Melrose
Pope Christian Miedl
Orlando's child Justin Vivian Bond
Schlagzeug-Solist Lucas Niggli
E-Gitarre Edmund Köhldorfer


In 1598, the young English aristocrat is being groomed for a military career. His Guardian Angel watches him from afar. Orlando discovers poetry.

He almost arrives too late for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth I. He approaches her shyly, but quickly notices the mismatch of power and frailty, while the queen is enchanted by his youth. She endows him with medals and properties before she dies.

In the Great Frost of 1610, festivities are held on the frozen Thames. Although engaged, Orlando falls passionately in love with the attractive Sasha. She however prefers to amuse herself with a Russian sailor. She disappears, and the frost thaws. Orlando is deeply hurt.

Orlando has retired to loneliness on his estate. He falls into a death-like sleep, from which arcane medical practices cannot rouse him. When he does awaken, he resoalves to be a poet; his work will bear the title “The Oak Tree”. However, he starts craving company again – but his poet colleague Greene is vain and not interested in Orlando’s poetry, only his money. Disappointed with life and art, Orlando decides to turn his back on England and has himself posted as ambassador to a distant land.

War and cruelty abound, and Orlando once again falls into a trance.

The ladies Purity, Modesty and Chastity visit the sleeping poet, but are driven away by choral singing and the sounds of brass music.

Orlando awakens as a woman!

Inspired by the desire to write poetry, she now realizes that a difficult life awaits her as a woman. She is perceived as nothing more than a body – a sailor almost falls to his death when he catches a glimpse of her ankle, although – as the Narrator emphasizes – only her body has changed, in all other respects she remains the same person.

Returning to England, she invites her poet colleagues Pope, Addison, Dryden and Duke to tea. They take her sugar, but pay no attention to her work. When she turns down Duke’s proposal of marriage, he threatens her with the loss of her house and predicts that she will end her life in misery as a prostitute.

She experiences the oppressive social atmosphere of the Victorian age; behind a hypocritical bourgeois façade, the helplessness of dependent individuals makes it easy for the powerful to take advantage of them in every respect. First and foremost, women and children were the victims: child exploitation reached an all-time high at this time. The putto expresses hope.


The First World War. While fleeing across rough terrain, Orlando breaks her ankle, but is brought to safety by the war photographer Shelmerdine. He is familiar with her work “The Oak Tree” and asks her to marry him and be the mother of his child.

As Orlando and Shelmerdine get married, there is no end to the misery of war. She becomes a witness of the Second World War, and as a war correspondent Shelmerdine witnesses more and more war-torn areas.

The generation of 1968, including Orlando, wants to bring the grand delusion to an end. Orlando keeps on writing.

In the wild 1980s, Orlando has a girlfriend, and the computer enters the scene. Orlando is haughtily admonished by a gentleman that she is sullying the purity of literature; she should give up writing and get married. Greene has also survived the centuries and is now a successful publisher. He too tells her what kind of literature she should write if she wants to be successful: she must keep everything simple, otherwise he cannot publish any of her work. Even though she has lost her house (just as Duke had predicted), she will not allow herself to be manipulated, but prefers to adhere to Virginia Woolf’s maxim: “Words hate making money …” Shelmerdine is killed in the Iraq war, Orlando mourns his loss.

Supermarket cashiers ring people up without having much of the money that passes through their hands. Orlando’s gender non-binary child is convinced that there must be a way out of misery, you just have to have the courage to be who you are and not adjust. Orlando has opened up this possibility to her child.

In the meantime, however, another movement has taken root: “Us first! Us first!” people shout. Orlando wants to counter this movement with her writing.

The “uprooted children” fear for their future, while for Orlando times and experiences become firmly established in her memory so that she will not forget. The Narrator argues that differences are irrelevant, it is humanity alone that is an obligation. Past, present and future dissolve.

Orlando will continue to write, because: “No one has the right to obey.” The putto is convinced that we will find our freedom, the choruses admonish us to stay alert. The Narrator has the last word, closing the play with irony.


This production is made possible thanks to the support of