Johann Strauss II

Die Fledermaus (The Bat), operetta (RV 503)

    Description by John Palmer

    The Vienna State Opera has offered an annual New Year's Eve production of Die Fledermaus since the early 1930s, both reflecting and reinforcing the work's status as the representation of all things Viennese. It is curious then, that the piece considered the epitome of Viennese operetta is not at all representative of contemporaneous works in the genre.

    Vienna in the middle nineteenth century was one of the premier cities of Europe. The capital of a vast empire, it boasted a vibrant cultural life and had long been recognized as a major musical and theatrical center. The Austrian economy was strong, and Viennese bourgeoisie spent their evenings eating, drinking, and attending the theater. However, on May 9, 1873, the Austro-Hungarian Empire suffered a debilitating stock market crash. Fortunes disappeared overnight, and businesses of all kinds suffered, including theaters. The Viennese, temporarily at least, were condemned to an austere lifestyle. It was in this atmosphere that Strauss' Die Fledermaus took shape.

    Die Fledermaus is based on a French vaudeville, Le Réveillon (1872), by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, itself based on Richard Benedix's Das Gefängnis of 1851. Karl Haffner created a German rendition of Le Réveillon and sold this to Maximillian Steiner, the director of the Theater an der Wien. Steiner gave Haffner's manuscript to Richard Genée, suggesting he develop from it a libretto. Strauss and Genée began working together, and on October 25, 1873, Strauss directed a benefit concert that included his csárdás für Gesang, with a text by Genée. The number was well received, and would become Rosalinde's csárdás in Act Two of Die Fledermaus. Spurred on by this success, Strauss reportedly completed the music for the rest of the operetta in 42 days. The premiere took place in the Theater an der Wien on April 5, 1874 (Easter Sunday).

    Die Fledermaus departed in several ways from previous Viennese works. Conceived in three acts, Die Fledermaus requires only three stage settings, and it does not open with the customary large number for chorus. At the premiere, the characters sported contemporary public attire instead of lavish costumes, while the sets consisted of the simple interiors of people's homes and a barren jail. Furthermore, the story is set in the present and in Vienna.

    While the current economic state of the empire was reflected in the production itself -- there were few scene changes and a minimal group of choral numbers -- the world as it "used to be" drives the story, with masked balls and freely flowing champagne. Any disappointment caused by the scaled-down production was outweighed for audiences by the chance to participate vicariously in the revelry acted out on stage. Certainly, the major element that made Die Fledermaus a resounding success was, and is, Strauss' music, which is more sophisticated than that of any operetta previously offered the Viennese.

    Strauss' ability to characterize through music is at its finest in Die Fledermaus. In Act Two, Rosalinde poses as a Hungarian princess, and when asked to prove her origins, sings a Hungarian csárdás. Strauss evokes an aural image of Hungarian gypsies through the clarinet line that opens the number, the slow, rubato style of the first half, and pizzicato strings. Adele, also in Act Two, "confirms" her upper-class status with an exquisite song, during which she enumerates her fine physical qualities. Strauss produces unity through an ingenious use of melody. For instance, the melody sung by the chorus as the curtain rises on Orlofsky's party in Act Two appears earlier when Adele reads the letter inviting her to Orlofsky's party and moments later when Falke convinces Eisenstein to attend the same event.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Overture
    2. No. 2, Täubchen, das entflattert ist
    3. No. 3, Du darfst heut' nicht
    4. No. 4, Nein, mit solchen Advokaten (Trio)
    5. No. 5, Komm' mit mir zum Souper (Duet)
    6. No. 6, So muss allein ich bleiben (Trio)
    7. No. 7, Trinke, Liebchen, trinke schnell (Finale)
    8. No. 8, Mein Herr, was dächten Sie
    9. No. 9, Nein, nein, ich zweifle gar nicht mehr
    10. No. 10a, Ein Souper heut uns winkt
    11. No. 10b, Chacun à son gout!
    12. No. 11a, Ach, meine Herr'n und Damen
    13. No. 11b, Mein Herr Marquis (Adeles Laughing Song)
    14. No. 12, Dieser Anstand, so manierlich (Watch Duet)
    15. No. 13, Klange der Heimat (Czardas)
    16. No. 14a, In Feuerstrom der Reben
    17. No. 14b, Brüderlein und Schwesterlien
    18. No. 15, Ballet (includes Waltz and Polka Unter Donner und Blitz)
    19. No. 16, Genug damit, genug!
    20. No. 17, Speil' ich die Unschuld
    21. No. 18, Ich stehe voll Zagen
    22. No. 19, O Fledermaus

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Oehms Classics OC 016
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon B002346910
    2014 Warner Classics 2564622239
    2014 Capriccio Records C 5167
    2013 Warner Classics
    2012 ZYX CLA 101502
    2012 Decca
    2011 Decca
    2011 BellaVoce 7219
    2011 Warner Classics 691255
    2011 EMI Classics 5099908828422
    2011 Alto ALC 2018
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal 477 882-6
    2010 Albany Music Distribution 1201/2
    2010 Denon Records
    2009 RCA 746984
    2009 Nimbus 7954/5
    2009 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996684
    2009 Document / Documents 223979
    2009 Audite 23411
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5670742
    2008 Decca 4756216
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4400734371
    2008 EMI Classics 11973
    2007 Kultur Kultur4249
    2007 Decca 000830202
    2007 Teldec
    2005 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Opera D'Oro 1404
    2004 Arte Nova Classics 74321983392
    2004 Oehms 239
    2004 Oehms 338
    2002 Preiser Records 90491
    2002 Pearl GEMS0140
    2001 Golden Melodram GM60008
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 67449
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73851
    2000 Nightingale 58
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469 211-2GP2
    2000 Gebhardt 22
    2000 Gala Records 340
    2000 Pearl GEMMCD0087
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 67153
    1999 Philips 4640312
    1999 Koch Schwann 316482
    1999 Orfeon 13762
    1999 BMG 216194
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 457765
    1997 Preiser Records 89970
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 66223
    1997 Hungaroton 16558/59
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 4793
    1996 Arte Nova 39673
    1995 Universal Distribution 447370
    1994 Naxos 660017
    1991 Philips 432157
    1989 Teldec 42427
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 69531
    1987 London 421046
    1986 Deutsche Grammophon 415646
    1986 EMI Music Distribution 47480
    1986 EMI Music Distribution 47480
    EMI Music Distribution 69531
    Eurodisc 610327
    Foyer Records 2021
    Denon Records 8101
    Le Monde de l'Opera 34
    ORF VLMD003