|Johann Strauss II|
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.
It was performed in New York under Rudolf Bial 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.
|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: "Ach, wie wird mein Auge trübe"/"My eyes will soon be dim"). 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.
Die Fledermaus has been adapted numerous times for the cinema and for TV:
- Lamb, 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
- The 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.
- Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Die Fledermaus, 5 April 1874". Almanacco Amadeus (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
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Die Fledermaus.|
- Libretto to Die Fledermaus in the original German with a literal English translation from Aria-Database.com
- Gänzl, Kurt. Die Fledermaus entry in Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (includes complete original performance history)
- List of upcoming performances from major opera companies from Operabase.com
- Gabriel von Eisenstein, Prince Orlofsky, Frosch at the Internet Movie Database
- The Guide to Operetta – Die Fledermaus
- Die Fledermaus The Guide to Musical Theatre – Die Fledermaus
- (German) Die Fledermaus
- Operetta "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat") in Moscow Operetta
- on YouTube, Carlos Kleiber, Vienna New Year's Concert 1989