On April 5, 1874 Johann Strauss Jr’s opera “Die Fledermaus” premiered in Vienna.
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 premiered 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 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. It was not until 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. Following that, 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 now frequently sung by a baritone. The role of Orlofsky is a trouser role, usually performed by a mezzo-soprano, sometimes by a countertenor and occasionally – an octave lower – by a tenor.
The party of act 2 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 3 also permits variety in performance.
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, allegedly 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.
Falke, Eisenstein’s friend, arrives to invite him to the ball. 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 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. 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. The Finale, dis a drinking song: “Glücklich ist, wer vergisst”/”Happy is he who forgets” followed by Rosalinde’s defence when Frank arrives:
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 and the Prince welcomes his guests. Eisenstein is introduced to Adele, but is confused as to who she really is because of her striking resemblance to his maid. 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. 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.
In a rousing finale, Orlofsky makes a toast to champagne, and the company celebrates followed by the canon and the waltz finale.
Eisenstein and Frank dash off as the clock strikes six in the morning.
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.
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. 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. (as per Wikipedia)
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