Is there any other opera in the rep that so resembles champagne as the heady, intoxicating Die Fledermaus (“The Bat,” 1874), from Johann Strauss II? Opera in the Heights's production is certainly vintage in sound with its young, appealing cast; maestro Eiki Isomura keeps his sprightly tuned orchestra just this side of grand cru; while director Bill Fabris supplies the bubbles. The only thing that's flat is the execrable libretto – in English, no less – by Ruth and Thomas Martin, who shoehorn words into Strauss's evanescent melodic cadence with a backhoe. The docking of the Hindenburg was far more graceful. There are much surer, fleeter Fledermaus translations available, but perhaps the price was right for this one. If you can, try not to listen to the words. You really don't need them, because Strauss's tunes are so giddy and glittering.
Although barely updated to Biedermeier 1906, Strauss's ever-fresh operetta remains firmly planted in its true home, fin-de-siècle Vienna, during the last gasp of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where splendid dance halls could accommodate thousands of patrons who waltzed the nighttime away and pretended that Vienna was still the center of the universe. The king of dance bands was Herr Strauss the younger, who earlier had formed his own orchestra in competition with his illustrious father, a revered composer who had conquered Europe with his polonaises, polkas and, of course, waltzes. Their rivalry was intense, but when Dad died, son Johann Jr. combined both orchestras and continued to conquer not only Europe but Russia and America with his own exquisite songs. The son swiftly eclipsed the father.
Melody poured out of him, hundreds of dances. When French operetta composer Jacques Offenbach (Orpheus in the Underworld, La Belle Hélène), whose satiric pieces had triumphed internationally, suggested to his friend that he turn his felicitous hand to the theater, a second successful career started. With Fledermaus he got a really lively script by Haffner and Genée, adapted from a French comedy hit by the team Halévy and Meilhac, who were soon to write Carmen for Bizet. Strauss's musical genius got a needed boost with this smart, tangy book.
In this spicy, sexy tale, marital fidelity gets a bashing. Although husband Eisenstein (tenor Michael Kuhn) must serve a five-day prison sentence, he receives an invitation to a swanky masked ball thrown by Russian Prince Orlovsky (mezzo Megan Berti). He's hot to get there to meet the girls. He'll go to the party first, then go to jail. Meanwhile, wife Rosalinda (soprano Lisa Borik) is being pestered by former lover Alfredo (tenor Benjamin Robinson), a “tenor,” so having her husband away in jail will be most opportune. Sassy maid Adele (soprano Julia Engel) gets invited by her sister, and Rosalinda allows her to go to get her out of the house. Everyone's on the make. All this is an elaborate ruse set up by Eisenstein's friend Falke (baritone Wesley Landry), who's out for comic revenge for a prank Eisenstein pulled on him at a previous party. Adultery and champagne – what a combo, how Viennese.
The young and vivacious cast is first-rate and leaps into the party mood with abandon. Lithe and assured, Kuhn has natural stage presence for days and a reedy, powerful voice that has overtones of smoky clarinet that fills intimate Lambert Hall. He's one of those few artists the audience can “read” from the back row. His Eisenstein is polished, soignee and hot to trot. Borik's shiny soprano sails through Strauss's most difficult arias with ardent control and honeyed tone. Her famous “Czárdás” ("Sounds from home"), as she impersonates a Hungarian countess at Orlovsky's party, is a standout. Engel, as saucy maid Adele, heard at OH over the past three seasons, has grown even more lovely as a singer. Her acting, never in doubt, is scene-stealing, but her “Laughing Song” – one of the show's most famous hits – combines the best of her: stylish and full of vocal fireworks. She dazzles.
Berti has always glittered at OH with her resonant, radiant mezzo. Her sparkling Cenerentola from last season was a dream role, dreamily performed, and the dazzling memory of it refuses to leave me, not that I want it to. Here, though, in the “trouser role” of Orlovsky with its ambiguous sexuality, she's saddled with a thick bad Russian accent that comes and goes, mostly goes, that renders the Martins's awful translation rather incomprehensible. Maybe that's a good thing. Just sit back and listen to her velvety mezzo play with “Chacun à son gout” (“Each to his own taste”). Ahh, tasty indeed. Robinson, under a bicycle mustache as preening tenor Alfredo, gets laughs just by quoting famous arias. But he sings them divinely. Landry's baritone, as prankster Falke, is also wondrously rich and pure. You can understand everything he sings. Sorry about that.
The remaining members of the cast (Dashiell Waterbury as hapless lawyer Dr. Blind, Bryan DePan as prison warden Frank, Cristina Amaro as Adele's sister Ida) are equally accomplished, and thank goodness the speaking role of jailer Frosch (Brock Hatten), usually played by a comic whose better days were seen in vaudeville, is mercifully shortened. Nothing against Hatten, but the Martins finally did something right. The OH chorus sparkles, and everybody looks splendid in Reba Kochersperger's period peacock feathers or smoking caps. The orchestra has never sounded so lively. They, too, I imagine, are drunk on Strauss.
Surprisingly, the Viennese didn't warm to Fledermaus at its world premiere until after the operetta wowed Berlin a year later when the European economic crisis was finally over, and the Austrians were eager to forget their troubles and dance the night away. This most refreshing operetta waltzes right into the heart. Heady and potent, Strauss's stage masterpiece leaves one thoroughly contented and slightly woozy, smiling all the while at the fun of it. Champagne's ready. Okay, OH, pour the bubbly!
Die Fledermaus continues at 7:30 p.m. September 22, and 24 at Opera in the Heights,
1703 Heights Boulevard. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $13-$71.
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
For the character in The Tick, see Die Fledermaus (The Tick).
Die Fledermaus (German:[diː ˈfleːdɐˌmaʊs], The Bat, sometimes called The Revenge of the Bat) is an operetta composed by Johann Strauss II to a German libretto by Karl Haffner (de) and Richard Genée.
The original literary source for Die Fledermaus was Das Gefängnis (The Prison), a farce by German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix that premiered in Berlin in 1851. On 10 September 1872 a three-act French vaudeville play by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Le Réveillon, loosely based on the Benedix farce, opened at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. Meilhac and Halévy had provided several successful libretti for Offenbach and Le Réveillon later formed the basis for the 1926 silent film So This Is Paris, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Meilhac and Halévy's play was soon translated into German by Karl Haffner (1804–1876), at the instigation of Max Steiner, as a non-musical play for production in Vienna. The French custom of a New Year's Eve réveillon, or supper party, was not considered to provide a suitable setting for the Viennese theatre, so it was decided to substitute a ball for the réveillon. Haffner's translation was then passed to the playwright and composer Richard Genée, who had provided some of the lyrics for Strauss's Der Karneval in Rom the year before, and he completed the libretto.
The operetta premièred on 5 April 1874 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna and has been part of the regular repertoire ever since:
It was performed in New York under Rudolf Bial (de) at the Stadt Theatre on 21 November 1874. The German première took place at Munich's Gärtnerplatztheater in 1875. Die Fledermaus was sung in English at London's Alhambra Theatre on 18 December 1876, with its score modified by Hamilton Clarke.
When the operetta came to Paris in 1877 at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, as La Tzigane, with Ismaël and Zulma Bouffar in the cast, it was not a success; only in 1904, with Meilhac and Halevy's original roles names and the words adapted by Paul Ferrier to the music (with Max Dearly and Ève Lavallière in the cast) did it find success in Paris and enter the repertoire there.
The first London performance in German did not take place until 1895. According to the archivist of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, "Twenty years after its production as a lyric opera in Vienna, [composer and conductor Gustav] Mahler raised the artistic status of Strauss's work by producing it at the Hamburg Opera House [...] all the leading opera houses in Europe, notably Vienna and Munich, have brightened their regular repertoire by including it for occasional performance."
The role of Eisenstein was originally written for a tenor, but is nowadays frequently sung by a baritone. The role of Orlofsky is a trouser role, usually performed by a mezzo-soprano, but sometimes by a tenor.
The party of Act II allows productions to insert a variety of additional entertainment acts, such as music, comedy, or dance. The lengthy drunken soliloquy by Frosch (a comedy speaking role) in Act III also permits variety in performance.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 5 April 1874|
(Conductor: Johann Strauss II)
|Gabriel von Eisenstein||tenor/baritone||Jani Szika|
|Rosalinde, Eisenstein's wife||soprano||Marie Geistinger|
|Adele, Rosalinde's maid||soprano||Caroline Charles-Hirsch|
|Ida, Adele's sister||soprano||Jules|
|Alfred, a singer teacher||tenor||Hans Rüdiger|
|Dr Falke, a notary||baritone||Ferdinand Lebrecht|
|Dr Blind, a lawyer||tenor||Carl Matthias Rott|
|Frank, a prison governor||baritone||Carl Adolf Friese|
|Prince Orlofsky||mezzo-soprano (en travesti)||Irma Nittinger|
|Yvan, the prince's valet||speaking role|
|Frosch, a jailer||speaking role||Alfred Schreiber|
|Party goers and servants at Prince Orlofsky's (chorus)|
Gabriel von Eisenstein, a Viennese man-about-town, has been sentenced to eight days in prison for insulting an official, partially due to the incompetence of his attorney, Dr. Blind. Adele, Eisenstein's maid, receives a forged letter, purportedly from her sister who is in the company of the ballet, but actually written by Falke, inviting her to Prince Orlofsky's ball. She pretends the letter says that her aunt is very sick, and asks her mistress Rosalinde (Eisenstein's wife) for an evening off ("Da schreibt meine Schwester Ida"/"My sister Ida writes to me"). Falke, Eisenstein's friend, arrives to invite him to the ball (Duet: "Kommt mit mir zum Souper"/"Come with me to the souper"). Together, they recall a practical joke which Eisenstein played on Falke a few years ago, for which Falke is secretly planning a light-hearted revenge in kind. Eisenstein bids farewell to Adele and his wife Rosalinde, pretending he is going to prison (Trio: "O Gott, wie rührt mich dies!"/"Oh dear, oh dear, how sorry I am") but really intending to postpone jail for one day and have fun at the ball.
After Eisenstein leaves, Rosalinde is visited by her former lover, the singing teacher Alfred, who serenades her ("Täubchen, das entflattert ist"/"Dove that has escaped"). Frank, the governor of the prison, arrives to take Eisenstein to jail, and finds Alfred instead. In order not to compromise Rosalinde, Alfred agrees to pretend to be Eisenstein and to accompany Frank. (Finale, drinking song: "Glücklich ist, wer vergisst"/"Happy is he who forgets" followed by Rosalinde’s defence when Frank arrives: "Mit mir so spät im tête-à-tête"/"In tête-à-tête with me so late," and Frank’s invitation: "Mein schönes, großes Vogelhaus"/"My beautiful, large bird-cage.")
A summer house in the Villa Orlofsky
It transpires that Falke, with Prince Orlofsky's permission, is using the ball as a way of getting revenge on Eisenstein. Some time before, after a costume-party, Eisenstein had abandoned Falke, very drunk and dressed in a bat-costume, in the center of town, exposing him to ridicule the next day. As part of his scheme, Falke has invited Frank, Adele, and Rosalinde to come the ball, all concealing their identities as well. Rosalinde pretends to be a masked Hungarian countess, Eisenstein goes by the name "Marquis Renard," Frank is "Chevalier Chagrin," and Adele, who has borrowed one of Rosalinde's dresses without permission, pretends she is an actress.
The ball is in progress (Chorus: "Ein Souper heut' uns winkt"/"A souper is before us") and the Prince welcomes his guests ("Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein"/"I love to invite my friends"). Eisenstein is introduced to Adele, but is confused as to who she really is because of her striking resemblance to his maid. ("Mein Herr Marquis"/"My lord marquis," sometimes referred to as "Adele's Laughing Song"). Frank arrives. He and Eisenstein, who are both posing as Frenchmen, attempt to conceal their identities by repeating common French phrases to each other, to Orlofsky's great amusement. Since neither actually knows French, both are fooled. As the party progresses, they both experience alcohol-induced good-feeling and manly camaraderie for each other.
Then Falke introduces the masked Rosalinde to the company. She convinces everyone that she is Hungarian by singing the "Czardas", a sentimental dancing-song ("Klänge der Heimat"/"Sounds from home"). During an amorous tête-à-tête, Eisenstein tries unsuccessfully to persuade the mystery-woman to unmask. She succeeds in extracting a valuable watch from her husband's pocket, something which she can use in the future as evidence of his impropriety. (Watch duet: "Dieser Anstand, so manierlich"/"Her bearing, so well-mannered"). In a rousing finale, Orlofsky makes a toast to champagne, and the company celebrates (The Champagne song: "Im Feuerstrom der Reben"/"In the fire stream of the grape"; followed by the canon: "Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein"/"Brothers, brothers and sisters" and the waltz finale, "Ha, welch ein Fest, welche Nacht voll Freud'!"/"Ha, what joy, what a night of delight.") Eisenstein and Frank dash off as the clock strikes six in the morning.
(Note: The "Champagne song", which is sung by the entire ensemble, should not be confused with the baritone aria "Fin ch' han dal vino" from Don Giovanni, which is often called the "Champagne aria".)
In the prison offices of Warden Frank
The next morning they all find themselves at the prison where the confusion increases and is compounded by the jailer, Frosch, who has profited by Warden Frank's absence to become gloriously drunk. Alfred, still in jail in Eisenstein's place, irritates the other prisoners by singing operatic arias.
Adele arrives to ask the Chevalier Chagrin (actually Frank) to sponsor her career as an actress, but Frank is not wealthy enough to do this (Melodrama; Couplet of Adele: "Spiel' ich die Unschuld vom Lande"/"If I play the innocent peasant maid"). Meanwhile, Alfred asks Frosch to summon Dr. Blind to help get him released; Frank agrees to allow this and Dr. Blind arrives. Eisenstein enters and says he has come to serve his sentence. He is surprised when Frank tells him that his cell is already occupied by a man who claims to be Eisenstein and whom Frank had arrested in Eisenstein's apartment. Frank further tells Eisenstein that the man he arrested was singing amorous songs to Rosalinde at the time of his arrest, and warmly kissed her goodbye. Enraged, Eisenstein takes Dr. Blind's wig and glasses in order to disguise himself and confront the impersonator Alfred, whom Eisenstein now believes has cuckolded him. Rosalinde enters. Eisenstein takes off his disguise and accuses her of being unfaithful to him with Alfred. Eisenstein, Rosalinde, and Alfred sing a trio in which Eisenstein angrily claims the right of vengeance (Trio: "Ja, ich bin's, den ihr betrogen...Ra-ra-ra-ra-Rache will ich!"/"I'm the one who was mistreated....Ve-ve-ve-ve-vengeance is mine!"). However, Rosalinde produces his watch, and he realizes that the Hungarian mystery-woman he tried to seduce at Orlofsky's party was actually Rosalinde in disguise and that he, not she, is at fault.
Falke enters with all the guests from the party and explains that the whole thing was payback for Eisenstein's practical joke on him three years before. Eisenstein is delighted by the prank, and he begs Rosalinde to forgive him for his attempted infidelity. Rosalinde refuses at first, and threatens to divorce him, but Eisenstein tells her that his misbehavior was caused by the Champagne. She accepts this explanation and immediately forgives him unconditionally. Orlofsky promises to finance Adele's acting career, and the company joyfully reprises the "Champagne song" from Act 2.
Main article: Die Fledermaus discography
Die Fledermaus has been adapted numerous times for the cinema and for TV:
- Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Die Fledermaus, 5 April 1874". Almanacco Amadeus (in Italian).
- "Die Fledermaus" by Andrew Lamb, in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie. (subscription required)
- Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5
Johann Strauss II
- ^ abLamb, Andrew. Die Fledermaus. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
- ^Play text for Le Réveillon, viewable at the Gallica website, accessed 1 September 2016.
- ^it appears as number 16 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operatic works. Opera Statistics
- ^ abcThe Observer, 4 May 1930, p. 14: interview with ROH archivist Richard Northcott in connection with revival of Die Fledermaus conducted by Bruno Walter
- ^Noel E and Stoullig E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 3eme édition, 1877. G Charpentier et Cie, Paris, 1878, 452-454.
- ^Stoullig E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 30eme edition, 1904. Librairie Paul Ollendorff, Paris, 1905, 203-205.
- ^Recordings exist in which Wolfgang Windgassen and Gerhard Stolze play Orlofsky.
- ^Because many English versions of the opera exist, character names can occasionally vary: Ida, for example, is called Sally in the Schirmer translation, see Die Fledermaus: operetta in three acts (in German). G. Schirmer, Inc. 1986.
- ^"AMADEUS". Belviveremedia.com.