Some of the best rolls for mezzos and contraltos involve playing snide young men. Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, for example; Nicklausse in Hoffman. As a 16-18 year old, I naturally imagined myself playing only the really glamorous roles: Carmen; or Giulietta. Mezzo-sopranos can, and do, sing those roles.
But that doesn't mean I wasn't fascinated watching Hoffman's Muse appear as his wise-ass sidekick Nicklausse. Or by the very special views which Prince Orlofsky expresses on the subject of hospitality.
Here are some stellar performances.
I've written about Hoffman here.
In the initial, and very funny, first scene, Hoffman is romancing a mechanical doll. Why? Well, partly because he's been hoaxed by a dubious pair of scientists and a pair of magic spectacles, but also partly out of sheer willful blindness and pig-headedness.
Nicklausse, who has heard rumors that the lady is less alive than she seems, tries to warn him, but since he also knows Hoffman, he doesn't really try all that hard. He is a little amused, one feels.
Here are two versions of the scene in which he tries to hint to Hoffman that his great love might be a clockwork creation. Hoffman is played by Michael Spyres; Nicklausse is Anne Wieben. Wieben is very beautiful but she has an entirely feminine and non-androgynous face. It's not her fault---she's got the masculine bearing and movements; it's just that I just can't see that piquant, delicate face and think "dude." That's okay, though; Nicklausse is really the Muse in disguise and you can see that Anne Wieber is a perfect blond Muse.
Anyway I love the jaunty way she approaches Hoffman---and her subsequent simpering imitation of the dancing doll, Olympia. There is such an airy malice behind it all. She appears to be on the point of bursting out laughing. As you would.
Here's Ekaterina Gubanova rocking the role of Nicklausse as the snarky young man who is perhaps enjoying Hoffman's befuddlement a bit too much. She gives off more of a masculine vibe, and so it's much harder to see the disguised Muse. Here too, the dancing is delightful. I love any performer who can dance sarcastically.
This is an alternative version of the same scene. Marcus Haddock is Hoffman. I am not sure which I prefer!
Finally, here is Brigitte Fassbaender as Orlofsky in the comic operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat). Subtitles are provided! She owns the part.