STRAUSS II, J.: Die Fledermaus
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J. Straauss, JR. (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus (Highlights)
The younger Johann Strauss, even more prolific and successful than his father, was born in 1825, the year in which the older Strauss established his own dance orchestra. He studied music at first by stealth, until his father abandoned the family in favour of his mistress in 1842. Two years later he launched his own dance orchestra and went on to unparallelled success, in which he compelled his younger brothers to share, although all three of them had been destined for other professions. In 1863 Johann Strauss was appointed Music Director for the balls held at court, a position he relinquished in 1871, when he was succeeded by his youngest brother, Eduard. His career took him abroad to London, Paris, Budapest and regularly to the Russian Vauxhall at Pavlovsk. For the theatre he wrote a series of operettas, from Indigo and the Forty Thieves in 1871 and Die Fledermaus three years later to the final Goddess of Reason in 1897. By the time of his death in 1899 Strauss had written some 500 pieces of music, waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and stage works, evidence of a fertile talent and an enormous capacity for work.
The sparkling operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat), based on the French vaudeville Le Réveillon by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, derived in its turn from a German play by Roderich Benedix, Das Gefängnis (The Prison), was first staged at the Vienna Theater an der Wien in 1874. The time was unpropitious, coming soon after a general financial disaster that had affected Vienna. The work ran for only sixteen performances. In Berlin, however, the reception was very different, with a series of a hundred consecutive performances. In 1894 it entered the evening repertoire of the Imperial Court Opera, accepted, as it had already been in Hamburg under Gustav Mahler.
The bat of the title is Eisenstein, about to be imprisoned for tax misdemeanours, who is persuaded by his friend Falke to delay his imprisonment and attend a ball at the house of Prince Orlofsky. This he does in the guise of a bat. His wife Rosalinde plans to spend the evening with her lover Alfred, who finds himself mistaken for her husband and escorted to prison in his place by the prison governor, Frank. Rosalinde's maid Adele has sought leave to visit a sick aunt, intending herself to attend the ball at Orlofsky's.
In the second act at Prince Orlofsky's Adele appears disguised as an actress. Falke reveals in conversation with Orlofsky that he plans what he describes as \the bat's revenge". Eisenstein, in his bat costume, presents himself as the French Marquis Renard. Falke introduces him to the prison governor Frank, a late arrival, disguised as the Chevalier Chagrin. They are followed by a Hungarian countess, Rosalinde in disguise, with whom Eisenstein flirts, allowing her to take his repeater watch. She dazzles the company with her singing of the czárdás. Falke is asked to tell the company the story of the bat, but he is forestalled by Eisenstein, who recalls how Falke some years ago was left by him to walk home alone dressed as a bat, after a fancy-dress ball. The guests sit down to supper and sing in praise of champagne. The so-called Fledermaus waltz that follows is interrupted by the sound of the dock striking six, at which Eisenstein and Frank seize their hats and hurry away.
The third act is set in the office of the prison governor. The voice of Rosalinde's lover, the singing teacher Alfred, can be heard from a cell, while the drunken gaoler Frosch tries to quieten him. Frank staggers in, followed by Adele and her sister Ida, in pursuit of the Chevalier Chagrin, whose influence she hopes to engage in her proposed career as a real actress, demonstrating to Frank her histrionic and vocal abilities. Eisenstein appears, reporting for imprisonment and surprised to find the Chevalier Chagrin there, but is told that an Eisenstein is already in prison. The lawyer Dr. Blind arrives, summoned, he says, by Eisenstein, who now borrows the lawyer's coat, case and glasses, hoping to discover the identity of the man who has taken his place. When Rosalinde joins them, she is interrogated by Eisenstein as the stuttering Dr. Blind, but when he reveals his identity she counters his reproaches by producing the watch that he had allowed the supposed Hungarian countess to take. The arrival of others of the company allows Falke to explain how he has engineered the whole business in pursuit of the bat's revenge.
A brilliant Overture sets the mood, The voice of Rosalinde's lover, Alfred, is heard (Täubchen das entflattert ist), serenading his little dove. Adele, the maid, reads a letter from her sister telling her of the ball at Prince Orlofsky's: she should borrow a dress from her mistress and come. Adele asks for the evening off, pleading the illness of her aunt, but Rosalinde refuses (Ach ich darf nicht hin zu dir). Eisenstein, meanwhile, finds no satisfaction from his lawyer, Dr. Blind (Nein, mit solchen Advokaten ist verkauft man), and the two abuse each other, while Rosalinde offers the cold comfort that Eisenstein will be out of prison in five days. Eisenstein's friend Falke invites Eisenstein to join him at Prince Orlofsky's (Komm mit mir zum Souper), without Rosalinde's apparent knowledge. There is a heart-rending scene of parting between Eisenstein and Rosalinde, witnessed by Adele (So muß allein ich bleiben). In the finale to the first act Alfred has now joined Rosalinde, and tells her to drink (Trinke, Liebchen, trinke schnell). They are interrupted by the arrival of Frank, come to escort Eisenstein to prison and Alfred has no choice but to protect Rosalinde's reputation by continuing the pretence that he is her husband.
The second act opens with a chorus of guests at Prince Orlofsky's (Ein Souper heut'uns winkt), light-heartedly singing of their quest for amusement. Prince Orlofsky welcomes his guests (Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein), proclairning his motto: Chacun à son goût. Adele, on her arrival, fears that her identity will be revealed, when she sees Eisenstein, but both find it in their interest to continue the pretence, and Adele develops the point, a gentleman of such refinement as the Marquis Renard could not possibly mistake her delicate features for those of a servant (Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie). Eisenstein fails to recognise his wife Rosalinde, disguised as a Hungarian countess, and flirts with her, allowing her to take from him his watch (Dieser Anstand, so manierlich). Rosalinde entertains the company with a czárdás (Klänge der Heimat). In the finale all sing in praise of champagne, the king of all the wines (lm Feuerstrom der Reben). The act ends with a polka (Marianka komm und tanz me hier), after which Frank and Eisenstein, after the clock strikes six, both call for their hats and hurry away.
After an entr'acte the curtain opens at the prison, to which Frank has returned, now compelled to listen to Adele's display of her dramatic abilities (Speilich die Unschuld vom Lande), in the part of a simple country-girl, or a queen, or a lady from Paris. When all difficulties and misunderstandings have finally been resolved, all join in revealing to Eisenstein the extent to which he has been duped (O Fledermaus, o Fledermaus). Rosalinde is reconciled with her husband and once again all sing in praise of champagne.