|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."
|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 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 letter from her sister, who is in the company of the ballet, inviting her to Prince Orlofsky's ball. She pretends the letter says that her aunt is very sick, and asks for a leave of absence ("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"). 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. The previous winter, Eisenstein had abandoned a drunken Falke dressed as a bat (and thus explaining the opera's title) 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 the ball as well. Rosalinde pretends to be a Hungarian countess, Eisenstein goes by the name "Marquis Renard," Frank is "Chevalier Chagrin," and Adele 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").
Then Falke introduces the disguised Rosalinde to Eisenstein (Csárdás and she convinces all the she is Hungarian by singing the cardas: "Klänge der Heimat"/"Sounds from home"). During an amorous tête-à-tête, 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, the company celebrates (The Drinking 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.
In the prison offices of Governor 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 the absence of the prison director to become gloriously drunk.
Adele arrives to obtain the assistance of the Chevalier Chagrin (Melodrama; Couplet of Adele: "Spiel' ich die Unschuld vom Lande"/"If I play the innocent peasant maid") while Alfred wants nothing more than to get out of jail. Knowing of Eisenstein's trickery, Rosalinde wants to begin an action for divorce, and Frank is still intoxicated.
Frosch locks up Adele and her sister Ida, and the height of the tumult arrives when Falke appears with all the guests of the ball and declares the whole thing is an act of vengeance for the "Fledermaus". (Trio between Rosalinde, Eisenstein, Alfred: "Ein seltsam Abenteuer"/"A strange adventure"). Everything is amicably arranged (with Eisenstein blaming the intoxicating effects of champagne for his act of infidelity and Frank volunteering to support Adele's artistic career), but Eisenstein is compelled to serve his full term in jail (Finale, "O Fledermaus, o Fledermaus"/"Oh bat, oh bat, at last let thy victim escape").
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.
- 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