Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Selections

by Max Derrickson

Johann Strauss II
(Born near Vienna in 1825; died in Vienna in 1899)

Selections from Die Fledermaus (The Bat)
1. Overture: Orchestra Alone
(from ACT 1)
2. Introduction: Alfred, Adele (into) Duet: Rosalinde, Adele
3. Trio: Rosalinde, Adele, Eisenstein
4. Finale: Drinking Song: Alfred, Rosalinde
(from ACT 2)
5. Entr’acte: Chorus
6. Adele’s “Laughing song,” cadenza
7. Czárdás: Rosalinde
8. Finale: Adele, Rosalinde, Eisenstein, Chorus

By the second half of the 19th Century, Johann Strauss II came to be known as the “Waltz King.” His dance music became beloved the world over, but nowhere so much as in Vienna.  The “other” Strauss, Richard (composer of the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, and others), referred to Johann II as the “laughing genius of Vienna”; and Brahms, a close friend, never missed a performance of Johann II’s masterpiece operetta Die Fledermaus.  Today, Strauss’s waltzes, like his famous The Beautiful Blue Danube, polkas and operettas enchant us as much as ever.

Strauss had a tremendous gift for melody and for knowing just what his Viennese public wanted.  In 1873 a financial crisis hit Vienna, leaving the city’s famous frivolities – masquerade balls, lavish living sotted with champagne and Sachertorte – somewhat of a memory.  Strauss’s 1874 operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat), revived those “golden days,” and for the Viennese, it became their needed escape from their present economic […] wonderful melodies, comical plots and characters, and entertaining dance.  Die Fledermaus hit every bullseye, and then some – the Operetta is almost impossibly packed with one fantastic tune after another, […]

The libretto was originally a French vaudeville piece which was then refashioned for Strauss by German writers Carl Haffner and Richard Genée.  The plot involves five main characters: von Eisenstein (a Viennese socialite), Rosalinde (Eisenstein’s wife), Adele (Rosalinde’s maid), Alfred (a singer, Rosalinde’s former lover), and Dr. Falke (Eisentein’s friend, but with vendetta).  Its plot  has a pre-story:  A year earlier, Falke and Eisenstein were at a grand masquerade ball at Prince Orlofsky’s for which Falke donned a ridiculous bat costume (hence, this Operetta’s title).  Eisenstein, scorning Falke’s costume, gets Falke blind drunk and then leaves him in a public square for teasing the next morning.  Now, Falke plans revenge by arranging another grand masquerade ball at Orlofsky’s and inviting all the main characters to be there in costume, slyly planning to expose Eisenstein as a cad.   Thus begins a story of scheming, infidelity, debauchery and joy-making, all relying on mistaken-identity hijinks – perfectly convoluted and fantastical for song and merriment.  If the story is burlesque-formulaic, Strauss’s music is anything but. 

The Overture (Selection #1) is in itself a brief masterpiece, wonderfully paced and filled with singable tunes from the Operetta.  As the Scenes begin, Alfred is wooing Rosalinde (#2 and Duet), but Eisenstein comes home to supposedly […] a City Official.  This leads to one of Strauss’s most magical musical inventions, the Trio in Act I (#3).  Masquerading as a heart wrenching farewell song between Eisenstein and Rosalinde (and Adele), it turns into comic parody as everyone brightens at the thought of it.  As he leaves, Alfred dons […] a Hungarian Countess, sings a beautiful Czárdás (#7), a Hungarian folksong and dance, and one of Strauss’s most enchanting musical delights.  In the full Operetta, everything ends […] and a wonderfully joyous and dance-filled final chorus.  Strauss and his librettists summed it up:

Ah, what a party, what a night full of joy!  Love and wine will give us bliss! If life always went at tonight’s pace, every hour would be dedicated to desire!