No bats were harmed in the making of this opera. Indeed no bats figure – the title (Dei Fledermaus translates as The Bat) refers to a long ago affront suffered by our anti-hero when drunk. (He still often is - there’s a lot about drinking.) This is classic late nineteenth century operetta, celebrating (and often mocking) high society and its excesses, in quick paced plots to infectious melodies and there are always waltzes.
We’re nudging the turn of the century here - Johann Strauss, Jr., (1825 –1899) was king of the polkas and waltzes of Viennese society – he composed over 500 - and Offenbach (1819 –1880) was his main rival in operetta. (And reportedly had told him, "You ought to write operettas, Herr Strauss.") Richard Strauss (unrelated Johann), when writing his waltzes for Rosenkavalier (1911), said of Johann Strauss, "How could I forget the laughing genius of Vienna?"
Die Fledermaus (The Bat), has a thoroughly batty plot, which you don’t need to know. Think: “A husband, his wife, her lover, a policeman, a serving maid walk in to the party of a sexually ambiguous host…” If you really want to know, here it is. More detail re the songs here. But who needs a convincing story? This is the most often performed operetta, and it has blissful music. Brahms, (an exact contemporary, 1833- 1897, by the way) on hearing the show for the first time, is said to have remarked, “Now there is a master of the orchestra!”.
The show’s overture is in the grand tradition established by Rossini and other composers of light opera - a preview of the tunes to come, including polkas and waltzes, melodies you’ve always known - and it gets better from there.
Our production? Gramophone’s description: “Champagne all round – a vintage performance.” Carlos Kleiber leads the Bavarian State Orchestra and singers including Eberhard Waechter, Pamela Coburn, Benno Kusche, Brigitte Fassbaender, Josef Hopferwieser, Wolfgang Brendel.
Here's Kleiber conducting that overture.
It’s not all waltzes. The famous songs are character acting ones: here’s Adele’s ‘laughing song’ in response to the suggestion that she might be a maid. And Rosalinde, the wronged and wronging wife, was a favourite role of Dame Joan Sutherland. Here is a 1982 video – of her parting from her husband with a high C as he leaves for prison – here in “disguise” trapping him at the party. But best is this gem from 1973, a wonderful audio recording of Act 1 from an English production.
And then there’s that sexually ambiguous host, Count Orlovsky. Want a mezzo tasting? Orlovsky is one of the wildest trouser roles for clever mezzos. We have the amazing Brigitte Fassbaender – here doing “his” “Chacun a son gout”. Compare with Malena Ernman's Orlofsky here. (Check out the gender bending - the next clip on Youtube is the same singer doing Olympia in a minidress.) Or a countertenor? German countertenor Jochen Kowalski. But Brigitte Fassbaender made Prince Orlofsky her own role. “A mezzo with a perfectly ”male” bearing, portrayed by both her acting and her looks.” There’s a wonderful article on Brigitte at 80 in Limelight.
And you don't have to wait till our full opera performance: on Youtube is the full opera recording of a hilarious 1977 ROH production with as Rosalinde - Kiri Te Kanawa and as Gabriel von Eisenstein - Hermann Prey. And a tenor Orlosky!