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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAUSS II, J.: Fledermaus (Die)
Die Fledermaus (The Bat)
The younger Johann Strauss, even more prolific and successful than his father, was born in 1825, the year in which the older Strauss established his own dance orchestra. He studied music at first by stealth, until his father abandoned the family in favour of his mistress in 1842. Two years later he launched his own dance orchestra and went on to unparallelled success, in which he compelled his younger brothers to share, although all three of them had originally been destined for other professions. In 1863 Johann Strauss was appointed Music Director for the balls held at court, a position he relinquished in 1871, when he was succeeded by his youngest brother, Eduard. His career took him abroad, to London, Paris, Budapest and regularly to the Russian Vauxhall at Pavlovsk. For the theatre he wrote a series of operettas, from Indigo and the Forty Thieves in 1871 and Die Fledermaus three years later to the final Goddess of Reason in 1897. By the time of his death in 1899 Strauss had written some 500 pieces of music, waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and stage works, evidence of a fertile talent and an enormous capacity for work.
The sparkling operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat), based on the French vaudeville Le Reveillon by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, derived in its turn from a German play by Roderich Benedix, Das Gefangnis (The Prison), was first staged at the Vienna Theater an der Wien in 1874. The time was unpropitious, coming soon after a general financial disaster that had affected Vienna. The work ran for only sixteen performances. The reception in Berlin was very different, with a series of a hundred consecutive performances. In 1894 it entered the evening repertoire of the Imperial Court Opera, accepted, as it had been in Hamburg under Mahler.
The bat of the title is Eisenstein, about to be imprisoned for tax misdemeanours, who is persuaded by his friend Falke to delay his imprisonment and attend a ball at the house of Prince Orlofsky. This he does in the guise of a bat. His wife Rosalinde plans to spend the evening with her lover Alfred, who finds himself mistaken for her husband and escorted to prison in his place by the prison governor, Frank. Rosalinde's maid Adele has sought leave to visit a sick aunt, intending herself to attend the ball at Orlofsky's.
In the second act at Prince Orlofsky's Adele appears disguised as an actress.
Falke reveals in conversation with Orlofsky that he plans what he describes as "the bat's revenge". Eisenstein, in his bat costume, presents himself as the French Marquis Renard. Falke introduces him to the prison governor Frank, a late arrival, disguised as the Chevalier Chagrin. They are followed by a Hungarian countess, Rosalinde in disguise, with whom Eisenstein flirts, allowing her to take his repeater watch. She dazzles the company with her singing of the czardas. Falke is asked to tell the company the story of the bat but he is forestalled by Eisenstein who recalls how Falke some years ago was left by him to walk home after a fancy-dress ball dressed as a bat. The guests sit down to supper and sing in praise of champagne. The so-called Fledermaus waltz that follows is interrupted by the sound of the clock striking six, at which Eisenstein and Frank seize their hats and hurry away.
The third act is set in the office of the prison governor. The voice of Rosalinde's lover, the singing teacher Alfred, can be heard from a cell, while the drunken gaoler Frosch tries to quieten him. Frank staggers in, followed by Adele and her sister Ida, in pursuit of the Chevalier Chagrin, whose influence she hopes to engage in her proposed career as a real actress, demonstrating to Frank her histrionic and vocal abilities. Eisenstein appears, reporting for imprisonment and surprised to find Chevalier Chagrin there, but is told that an
Eisenstein is already in prison. The lawyer Dr. Blind arrives, summoned, he says, by Eisenstein, who now borrows the lawyer's coat, case and glasses, hoping to discover the identity of the man who has taken his place. When Rosalinde joins them, she is interrogated by Eisenstein as the stuttering Blind, but when he reveals his identity she counters his reproaches by producing the watch that he had allowed the supposed Hungarian countess to take. The arrival of others of the company allows Falke to explain how he has engineered the whole business in pursuit of the bat's revenge.
 The Overture is a medley of tunes from the opera, looking forward to the third act in its first three melodies, followed by the famous Fledermaus waltz.
 Act I. The scene is the house of Eisenstein. The voice of Alfred is heard singing to his turtle-dove that he has so often kissed, his beloved Rosalinde. The maid Adele comes into the room reading a letter from her sister Ida, a dancer in the ballet, who suggests that she should borrow a dress from Rosalinde and come to a grand supper at Prince Orlofsky's to which the whole ballet has been invited: Adele laments her position as a servant, and wishes she were a turtle-dove, to fly where she would.
 Adele wonders who is singing outside, realising, as she listens, that this must be Rosalinde's lover. Rosalinde now enters, alarmed at the possible scandal that Alfred's presence may cause. Adele asks leave of her mistress to visit a sick aunt, but Rosalinde tells her that this is impossible: that day her husband Eisenstein is to be arrested and needs a good supper before his five days in prison: Adele must stay in.
 In a duettino Adele regrets yet again her position as a servant, while Rosalinde, while refusing permission, is sorry for her.
 When Adele has gone, Alfred calls out to his Roserl, who is terrified that her husband may come in and find her lover at the window, but he makes her promise to allow him to return when her husband is away, and he has heard a rumour that he will soon be in prison. Rosalinde is in two minds about this, but says that, while she can resist his talking, she must give in to his top Cs. She breaks off as she hears Eisenstein and his lawyer Dr. Blind approaching.
 Eisenstein comes in complaining of the uselessness of his lawyer, while Blind urges patience. The two continue to quarrel, while Rosalinde tries to calm them. Eisenstein blames Blind for the extension of his sentence by three days: the lawyer chatters like a starling, stutters, crows like a cockerel. Blind is equally angry and in his defence lists the procedures he can go through on appeal.
 Left with his wife, Eisenstein is calmer, and calls for supper. Adele comes in crying and tells her master about the illness of her aunt. The voice of Alfred is heard outside, serenading his turtle-dove and arousing the misplaced suspicions of Eisenstein, who warns Adele not to overstrain her aunt. Rosalinde asks the girl for a snack for her husband, but Eisenstein, to be condemned to eight days bread and water, calls for a real dinner, to be brought in from The Golden Lion, with meats and puddings, a feast, while Rosalinde must look out his oldest and shabbiest clothes for his arrest. His friend Falke arrives, congratulating him on the extension of his sentence, but Rosalinde tells him not to joke, as she goes out to find her husband's clothes, and Adele goes to fetch dinner. Falke brings Eisenstein an invitation to supper at the villa of Prince Orlofsky, the young Russian millionaire. Eisenstein at first demurs, but wavers when he hears that the petits rats, the girls of the ballet, will be there. Falke reminds him of the masked ball at Schonbrunn when Eisenstein had gone as a butterfly and Falke as a bat, for which Falke should have his revenge. Eisenstein takes out his famous rat-catcher, his repeater watch, with which he fascinates the ladies.
 In the following duo Falke repeats his invitation, holding out the promise of pretty ballerinas. Eisenstein is anxious that his wife should not know, and Falke tells him to bid a fond farewell to the little kitten. No, replies Eisenstein, to his little mouse, while he slinks out of the house like a cat and goes to the party instead of to prison. He must be the Marquis Renard, Falke suggests.
 Eisenstein realises that he now has a problem with his dress. Rosalinde brings in the shabby clothes he had asked for, but he has changed his mind. She is puzzled when he asks Falke to give his greeting to the rats, but explains that the prison is full of rats. Now, however, he will change into evening dress and top hat, as a protest against his imprisonment. Adele appears with the supper and Rosalinde, with her own scheme in mind, allows her the evening off to visit her sick aunt. Eisenstein re-appears, ready to go without his supper, eager to chase the little rats, and explaining to Rosalinde that he is quoting an old Chinese proverb "If rats gnaw, avoid a full stomach". The couple take a fond parting: Eisenstein will twist and turn through the night, as his wife sleeps, he assures her.
 In a terzetto Rosalinde laments her coming eight days of loneliness, joined by Eisenstein and Adele, although all have their own delights to look forward to.
 When the other two have gone, Rosalinde lets Alfred in and he proceeds to make himself comfortable in her husband's dressing-gown: ordering for breakfast coffee, then roast beef, caviar, eggs. Rosalinde protests, but Alfred seeks her favour once… twice. First they will drink, then sing - No, not sing, she pleads.
 In the Finale of the act Alfred bids Rosalinde drink quickly: it will bring a sparkle to her eyes. She wonders what will come of this, since Alfred clearly intends to spend the night with her, but they agree that it is best to forget what cannot be changed. Voices are heard and the sound of someone coming upstairs. The prison governor Frank is admitted, come to collect Rosalinde's husband. Alfred is happily singing and drinking, and invites Frank, who naturally takes him for Eisenstein, to join him.
Frank is prepared to make allowances. Alfred denies that he is Eisenstein, but Rosalinde insists that he must be her husband: after all she would hardly sit at home with a stranger in a dressing-gown, ensconced there like a pasha. Frank is convinced and Alfred takes a parting kiss, thinking that he will certainly find Eisenstein himself in the prison when he gets there. Frank now urges Alfred to hurry to the carriage outside so that they can soon be at his bird-cage, with its gaol-birds fluttering in and out. Alfred promises Rosalinde to remain silent and seeks yet another farewell kiss. Frank hurries Alfred out, since he too is on his way to Prince Orlofsky's.
 Act II. At Prince Orlofsky's the party has begun. A chorus of guests celebrates, the key-note being amusement
 Adele arrives, wearing one of Rosalinde's dresses, and is greeted by her surprised sister, whose invitation to her had been intended as a joke: the party is for fine folk, but Ida quickly decides to introduce Adele as an artiste, as Orlofsky comes in, chatting with Falke, who explains the charade he has arranged, The Revenge of the Bat. Ida comes forward and presents Adele as an actress, Olga, but the latter is nonplussed when Orlofsky, whose speech is interlarded with Russian, as opposed to the Viennese dialect of the two girls, addresses her in Russian. The voice of a croupier is heard announcing Rien ne va plus, as Adele is about to embark on a fictitious account of her career. Falke, who has recognised her, tells Orlofsky who she is. At this moment the hero of Falke's drama is announced, the Marquis Renard, alias Eisenstein, who does not recognise Orlofsky and asks Falke where the lad is. When Orlofsky is introduced, he is compelled to apologize, since he had always imagined princes rather different. Orlofsky tells him to sit down and listen to his account of the national customs of Russia.
 Orlofsky is bored with his millions, but enjoys his parties, where his guests must find pleasure or be thrown out, drink with him or have a bottle thrown at their heads. He ends by repeating his motto, Chacun a son goat.
 Adele and Eisenstein recognise each other, to their mutual consternation, but Falke introduces the girls to Eisenstein as Olga and Ida, while Orlofsky begins to enjoy the joke that Falke has prepared. Eisenstein asks Adele if she has always been Olga, and Adele asks him if he has always been a Marquis Renard, and urges him to say whom she resembles. His housemaid, he tells her.
 Orlofsky calls on his guests to enjoy the joke: the Marquis has mistaken Adele for a servant. He reproaches him with his lack of gallantry, but Eisenstein pleads that the likeness is striking. Adele adds that a man like the Marquis should know better: maidservants do not have such fine hands, such dainty feet, such a way of speaking and dressing, and she laughs at his mistake, mirth in which the rest of the company joins.
 Eisenstein begs everyone's pardon, which Adele haughtily grants. The manservant Ivan announces a new guest, the Chevalier Chagrin, really, as Falke explains to Orlofsky, the prison governor Frank. He is welcomed by Falke and Orlofsky and apologizes for his lateness. Falke now introduces the supposed French Chevalier to the Marquis Renard -fellow-countrymen, as Orlofsky remarks. The two now attempt conversation in very broken French, interspersed with German. Ida asks when supper will be, since she is hungry, and Falke says they must wait for the arrival of a very interesting guest, a Hungarian countess, married to a stupid fellow and therefore to remain masked during the party. Adele admires Eisenstein's watch, and he is again convinced of her identity. At this point the new guest arrives, Rosalinde, dressed as a Hungarian countess, having received a message from Falke to remain disguised from her husband. She immediately recognises Adele and her own dress. In conversation with Frank Eisenstein boasts of the conquests he has made by showing girls his watch and the two find themselves near neighbours and agree to meet again, to Falke's amusement. Rosalinde now starts to admire Eisenstein's watch, which he describes as an open sesame with the girls. In the following conversation she plans to take possession of the watch as corpus delicti, proof of her husband's infidelity.
 The flirtation between Eisenstein and Rosalinde continues, the latter remarking in an aside on her husband's choice of kisses rather than chains. He urges her to remove her mask, but she refuses, expressing her true feelings in an aside, while he is happy at his progress. With an eye to seizing the watch, Rosalinde induces Eisenstein to time her heart-beat with its ticking. She deliberately counts wrongly, and takes the watch from him, while he counts, then appropriating the watch as a present, to Eisenstein's annoyance.
 Ida, Adele and Frank wonder how beautiful the countess is, and the company shout for her to unmask, but Orlofsky intervenes. Eisenstein is upset about the loss of his watch, which he tells Frank is now irretrievably concealed in the cleavage of the countess. Adele doubts whether she is Hungarian at all, but Rosalinde promises to prove it.
 In the famous Czardas Rosalinde sings of her alleged homeland, a remarkable performance that should convince everyone.
 Orlofsky announces supper and persuades Eisenstein to tell the story of the Schonbrunn masked ball which Eisenstein and Falke had attended as butterfly and bat, the second with a dark skin, black wings, long claws and an improbable yellow beak. Eisenstein had abandoned his friend to sleep it off in the middle of the city and then, when day came, to make his way home through the city in his strange costume, with everyone laughing at Doctor Bat, as he went by. He who laughs last laughs best, Falke remarks.
 In the Finale of Act II Orlofsky sings in praise of King Champagne, followed by Eisenstein and then Adele. Eisenstein, in his r61e as Marquis Renard, toasts the Chevalier Chagrin, and the two thank each other, their refrain of "merci" echoed by the chorus. Falke leads the company in a hymn to brotherhood and sisterhood, for ever, as today.
Orlofsky calls for quiet for the ballet, and the orchestra plays in accompaniment, leading to the polka of the chorus, "Marianka, come and dance". Orlofsky calls for quiet again and announces a cz8.rd8.s. After the ballet he invites the whole company to dance, and they join in a waltz, the Fledermaus waltz first heard in the Overture. Frank and Eisenstein cement their friendship. The latter tries to make the countess unmask, but without success. When the clock strikes six, Eisenstein and Frank realise they must go and call for their hats and coats, as the party breaks up.
 Act III. The final act is set in the prison. It is introduced by an entr'acte.
 The voice of Alfred is heard, with snatches of his serenade to Rosalinde. The gaoler Frosch is drunk and complaining at the noise of Prisoner Number 12: he is not a quick drinker, as Alfred's song would suggest, but a slow and regular drinker. His boss has advised him to put his money in the bank at 4%, but slivovitz is better at 40% proof. He goes on drinking and looks for the key to Alfred's cell, which is already open. Alfred tells him to leave him alone, calling him a drunken idiot, an insult that Frosch, as an Austrian civil servant, resents.
 Day is breaking, as Frank comes in, his clothes untidy and in general the worse for wear, to be greeted by his drunken underling. He whistles softly the sound of the Fledermaus waltz and then dances to it, before correcting himself and trying to climb the winding stairs out of the room, with no success.
 Frosch totters in again to make his morning report to the Herr Direktor: Prisoner Number 12 is righting on his stands, that is, standing on his rights and asking for a lawyer. Frank's hiccough is echoed by Frosch – Damned champagne, says Frank: damned slivovitz, says Frosch. There is a ring at the door and Frosch opens to what must be two ladies or perhaps one. They announce themselves as Ida and Olga, at which Frank is overjoyed. Frosch says they want to speak to a Kavalier Kagreun, but that cannot be Frank, who tells him to be gone. Adele has a confession to make: she is not an artiste but a maidservant in the employ of Eisenstein. And you let me kiss your hand, exclaims Frank. My mouth too, she replies, and asks him to put in a word for her with her employer for the dress she wore the night before. Ida asks him to help her sister in her proposed stage career, and Adele tries to settle his doubts on her ability.
 Adele now displays her versatility. She can take the part of a simple country girl, or a queen or a lady from Paris, the wife of a Marquis, caught in her infidelity in the third act and finally pardoned by her husband.
 Frank agrees to help, but they are interrupted by Frosch who announces a drunken headwaiter, the Marker Renoir, a description Frank recognises as the Marquis Renard. Frosch must hide the girls in Number 13, temporarily vacated by his brother-in-law.
Eisenstein enters, greeting his dear Chevalier, who welcomes him and offers a share of his breakfast. Frank apologizes for his deception: he is not the Chevalier Chagrin but the governor of the prison. Eisenstein does not believe him, but Frank summons Frosch, who comes at the third ring of the bell, and tells him to lock the Marquis up. Frosch obeys, convincing Eisenstein, who now reveals his own identity. Frank laughs in disbelief: he cannot be Eisenstein, because Eisenstein was arrested the night before, at supper, in a dressing-gown, with his wife. Eisenstein is now alarmed. "With my wife!" - "No, with his wife!" - "His wife is my wife!" - "The two of you have one wife!" Eisenstein, Franks adds, is now in Number 12.
At this point Frosch announces another visitor, a lady, - Oak - Box-tree - yes, Rosalinde, he knew it was a tree of some sort. Frank goes out to greet her. Eisenstein now starts to doubt his senses, as Frosch ushers in another visitor, Dr. Blind, a name that puzzles Frosch, since Blind can apparently see. Eisenstein asks him what he is doing in the prison, and Blind stutters back that he has summoned him. Eisenstein has a sudden idea, and borrows the lawyer's case, glasses and coat, giving up the idea of taking the man's wig, which he finds is his own hair. Frosch brings Alfred in to meet the lawyer, to an exclamation from Rosalinde, who greets her lover and warns him, but fails to recognise her husband.
 In the following terzetto Rosalinde urges discretion, while Alfred thinks he should tell the lawyer everything. Eisenstein plays the lawyer and elicits from Alfred that he was arrested as he took supper with Rosalinde. Eisenstein interrupts his account of matters with his own exclamations. Rosalinde, however, defends her behaviour as the wife of a deceitful husband, whose eyes she would scratch out, if he were to come home. This is too much for Eisenstein, who reveals himself, to their immediate consternation.
 Rosalinde too wants her own revenge and discloses that she was the Hungarian countess at Prince Orlofsky's. In what Frank decribes as a recognition scene Eisenstein demands his dressing-gown, which Alfred will be glad to give him, with a further seven days in prison. Frosch comes in to announce that the two girls in Number 13 are refusing to let him give them their regulation bath, and Frank, who had forgotten them, tells Frosch to bring them in.
 Falke and Orlofsky have now joined the company, with other guests, and all is explained as a plot to take revenge on Eisenstein for the trick he had played Falke. They were all in the plot, the Prince, Adele, Alfred and Rosalinde. They end with Orlofsky's motto, chacun a son gout, but the last word is Eisenstein's, as he seeks forgiveness from Rosalinde: it was only champagne that was guilty.
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STRAUSS II, J.: Fledermaus (Die)