Vienna demanded waltzes. Staying in Vienna this week, we leave Baron Ochs' lecherous version of the lovely Rosenkavalier waltz, (but check out this comment on the music). (There are several waltzes in this opera, and they were melded to a suite for orchestra.) Wander back in search of laughs and dances to the 1800s, when composer Johann Strauss II (no relation to Richard) was ‘The Waltz King’. (Go back to his father, J. Strauss Snr, for the origin of the high society Viennese waltz music. But it was Strauss Jr who won the gold statue in Vienna that the tourist buses drive past. Richard Strauss (unrelated Johann), when writing his waltzes for Rosenkavalier (1911), said of Johann Strauss, "How could I forget the laughing genius of Vienna?"
Lots of Strauss waltzes are free from operas - just search for recordings. and in the hands of other composers, the waltz can be a more serious ingredient, carrying the plot, with deep meaning - as in Eugene Onegin or Faust.
But this week's opera has the classic Viennese lighthearted, alcohol-fuelled waltz. Demanded by the mysterious Prince Orlofsky, it brings his drunken party of pretenders to their feet. Here's Welsh National Opera. And here, Vancouver Opera shows how to dance the steps!! We've visited this opera before - lots of detail and links to songs, on our blog post here.
Fledermaus is of course about more than a waltz. It's Strauss's best known operetta - indeed he was known for dances, not opera, before this. The French genius of comedy, Offenbach, reputedly told him, "You ought to write operettas, Herr Strauss." (Yes, we'll get to Offenbach on this tour of comedy and dance.) So he did.
The libretto was in fact originally written for Offenbach (by the successful Meilhac and Halévy), then adapted for Strauss. It's a full-on face, with mistaken identity, lots of wine and a trick ending - here's the plot solemnly recited - and some wonderful extracts of classic performances, including Edita Gruberova's Adele, with the famous laughing song. Vienna loved it - Strauss went on and write operetta after operetta over the next twenty-five years - but none nearly as successful. Here's the Wikipedia story. And reflect on this NYTimes piece on why Fledermaus is funny. It's not just a great answer to that question, but an insight (from 1986) into Otto Schenk's thinking about this opera and opera in general - he was the director of the performance we're watching - a year later (1987).
We're watching Brenda's copy, (thankyou Brenda) of the 1987 Munich production Bayerisches Staatsorchester, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. Review here. Pamela Coburn (at right) is Rosalinde, (a part Joan Sutherland loved - watch her here.)
Brigitte Fassbaender is that mysterious Prince, Janet Perry the maid Adele. Eberhard Wächter the befuddled husband, Eisenstein. Seen here with Fassbaender singing the superb aria declaring 'chacun à son goût'.