Die Fledermaus,

Pasatiempo - - TER­RELL’S TUNE-UP -

All three dis­ap­pointed him and went into mu­sic. Well, he had rather dis­ap­pointed them, too, hav­ing aban­doned the fam­ily and run off with a milliner. When he sent money back to his wife, it ar­rived with the pro­viso that the sons not take mu­sic lessons — which strength­ened her re­solve to help the boys do pre­cisely that. Johann II started gain­ing no­tice as an or­ches­tra leader when he was nine­teen, and be­fore long he emerged as a ri­val to his fa­ther. The awk­ward­ness of this sit­u­a­tion was over­come, and when Johann I died in 1848, Johann II merged his fa­ther’s or­ches­tra into his own. From 1863 to 1871 he served as di­rec­tor of Vi­enna’s court balls, fol­low­ing in his fa­ther’s foot­steps, and when he gave up that po­si­tion he sim­ply passed the ba­ton to his brother Ed­uard. The waltz­ing Strausses would per­se­vere for a fur­ther gen­er­a­tion, with Ed­uard’s son, Johann III, car­ry­ing on the waltz pro­fes­sion un­til his death in 1939. The Ger­man word Strauss has sev­eral mean­ings, but the most com­mon is a bunch or spray of flow­ers. It seems ap­pro­pri­ate, as there cer­tainly was a gen­er­ous bou­quet of them — not even count­ing other, un­re­lated mu­si­cal Strausses: the horn player Franz, his com­poser son Richard, and the op­eretta com­poser Os­car (who changed the spell­ing of his sur­name to Straus to avoid con­fu­sion).

ohann II es­tab­lished his renown as a master of the dance hall be­fore he be­came a crea­ture of the theater. Mu­si­cal com­edy was pop­u­lar in Vi­enna, to be sure, but its reign­ing fig­ure was not an Aus­trian. It was Jac­ques Of­fen­bach, born in Cologne but long a resident of Paris. It was not un­usual for him to launch an op­eretta in Paris (of­ten to a li­bretto by word­smiths Henri Meil­hac and Lu­dovic Halévy) and, if it proved suc­cess­ful, mount a new pro­duc­tion in Vi­enna. We think of Of­fen­bach’s op­erettas as quintessen­tially French, but, trans­lated into ver­nac­u­lar Vi­en­nese Ger­man, they landed with na­tive grace. “In the make-up of the Vi­en­nese pop­u­la­tion,” wrote Strauss bi­og­ra­pher Hein­rich Ed­uard Ja­cob, “there are two ap­par­ently un­con­nected el­e­ments. The one is sen­ti­men­tal­ity to the point of un­truth; the lo­cal chau­vin­ism that ap­proves peo­ple and things merely be­cause they are Vi­en­nese. The other is a spirit of ma­li­cious crit­i­cism di­rected against the ob­jects, a kind of un­der­ground nega­tion that may erupt in spurts of de­ri­sion.” Of­fen­bach’s par­o­dis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties fit per­fectly.

They had met when Of­fen­bach trav­eled to Vi­enna in 1863 or 1864 to help plan a con­cert for an as­so­ci­a­tion of news­pa­per jour­nal­ists; for that gath­er­ing, Of­fen­bach wrote a waltz ti­tled Abend­blät­ter (Evening Pa­pers), and Strauss coun­tered with one called Mor­gen­blät­ter (Morn­ing Pa­pers). The two en­joyed get­ting to know each other, and that is when Of­fen­bach pre­sum­ably told Strauss that he ought to con­sider writ­ing op­erettas. There was no press­ing need for it. Of­fen­bach had the Vi­en­nese mar­ket pretty well cov­ered, and the Dal­ma­tian com­poser Franz von Suppé was start­ing to gain a fol­low­ing there, too. But a Vi­en­nese im­pre­sario agreed with Of­fen­bach’s as­sess­ment of Strauss’ ca­pac­i­ties: Max­i­m­il­ian Steiner, the man­ager of the Theater an der Wien and later the grand­fa­ther of the Max Steiner who would write such Hol­ly­wood scores as Casablanca and Gone With the Wind.

Steiner con­vinced Strauss to try his hand at a stage work, and, af­ter some rough patches, he un­veiled the Strauss op­eretta Indigo und die vierzig Räu­ber (Indigo and the Forty Thieves) in 1871. It scored a tremen­dous suc­cess, and a sec­ond fol­lowed in 1873, Der Carneval in Rom (The Car­ni­val in Rome). Strauss was on a roll. For the next sea­son, Steiner pro­posed adapt­ing Le réveil­lon (The Mid­night Party), a some­what racy French com­edy au­thored in 1872 by none other than Of­fen­bach’s li­bret­tists Meil­hac and Halévy. It needed to be “Vi­en­nafied,” a task that was en­trusted to trans­la­tor Carl Haffner and adapter Richard Genée, who made it re­spectable enough for the Aus­trian cen­sors to give it a green light. A new name was at­tached to it: Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

The ti­tle is cu­ri­ous. It refers to some­thing that hap­pened con­sid­er­ably be­fore the ac­tion of the work at hand. Dr. Falke, a no­tary, at­tended a cos­tume party with his wealthy friend Gabriel von Eisen­stein. Eisen­stein went cos­tumed as a but­ter­fly, Falke as a bat. The evening — by then morn­ing — ended with Falke be­ing dumped in the town square to make his way home in his bat cos­tume. Al­though we don’t re­al­ize it un­til we are some dis­tance into the op­eretta, Die Fledermaus is the story of Falke’s re­venge, the elab­o­rate prac­ti­cal joke he or­ches­trates with the as­sis­tance of Prince Orlof­sky. Through the de­vice of a fancy-dress ball, his scheme will re­veal not just that Eisen­stein is a phi­lan­derer but that his wife (Ros­alinde) is, too, and will also rope in her maid

(Adele) and var­i­ous other per­sons in their or­bit. By nam­ing the work as he did, Strauss (and his as­so­ciates) shine the spot­light on Falke, who is more of a back­ground char­ac­ter in the ac­tion, the pup­peteer of this real-life mar­i­onette show. When Michael Pow­ell and Emeric Press­burger turned the op­eretta into a film ver­sion in 1955, set­ting it just af­ter World War II and mak­ing the main pro­tag­o­nists rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the three oc­cu­py­ing pow­ers, they reti­tled it

Oh, Ros­alinda!, thereby con­firm­ing Mrs. Eisen­stein’s pri­macy in the cast.

It is, frankly, a story of re­mark­able un­kind­ness, one that very much re­flects Ja­cob’s com­ment about the Vi­en­nese pen­chant for “ma­li­cious crit­i­cism.” It doubt­less re­flects some­thing of the mood of its mo­ment. The Vi­en­nese had been dev­as­tated by a mar­ket crash in May 1873, an eco­nomic cri­sis brought on by fi­nan­cial spec­u­la­tion, stock ma­nip­u­la­tion, and the un­mon­i­tored cook­ing of books. Vi­enna was where the bub­ble burst first, and the col­lapse soon spread, if not quite as vir­u­lently, through­out Europe and North Amer­ica. By the time Die Fledermaus opened the fol­low­ing year on April 5, the Vi­en­nese must have viewed the char­ac­ters — which is to say them­selves — through a chas­tened lens. The un­bri­dled jol­lity, and the rec­om­men­da­tion that peo­ple float through life on waves of cham­pagne, must have seemed ironic in a city whose high rollers sud­denly found them­selves on a beer bud­get.

Nonethe­less, Strauss en­veloped it all in a de­lec­ta­ble score rich in dance rhythms. Waltzes (and arias in waltz-me­ter) are well rep­re­sented, to be sure, but so are other pop­u­lar mu­si­cal species of the pe­riod’s dance halls: the polka, the quadrille, the czardas. The orig­i­nal score in­cludes an Act 2 bal­let se­quence that wends through a se­ries of na­tional dances (Span­ish, Scot­tish, Rus­sian, Pol­ish, Hun­gar­ian), al­though that is very of­ten cut in mod­ern pro­duc­tions. At Santa Fe Opera, it will be re­placed by Strauss’ polka-schnell

Un­ter Don­ner und Blitz (Thun­der and Light­ning), which would seem a clever site-spe­cific so­lu­tion that is sure to tie in with at­mo­spheric be­hav­ior on some nights. If the li­bretto was per­haps a year out of date in 1874, the mu­sic nonethe­less of­fered a balm for trou­bled souls. Re­viewer Lud­wig Spei­del re­ported from the Theater an der Wien:

[Strauss’ mu­sic] in­vades the ear and streams through the blood into the legs and even the most lethar­gic man in the theatre un­know­ingly be­gins to nod his head, rock his body, tap his feet. Look­ing down from a box one could get sea­sick watch­ing the au­di­ence weav­ing to the fas­ci­nat­ing tones which Strauss elic­its with his ba­ton from the or­ches­tra. … Tri­umph, vic­tory on all fronts. Oh, how the Vi­en­nese ap­plauded Strauss. As was to be ex­pected, the house shook with rag­ing ap­plause.

Some re­view­ers, how­ever, were muted in their re­sponse. The much-feared Vi­en­nese critic Ed­uard Hanslick dis­missed it as “a pot­pourri of waltz and polka mo­tives,” but the piece grew on him as time passed. Years later, Hanslick lamented that most of Strauss’ stage works — he would end up writ­ing 19 — “were vic­tims of bad li­bret­tos and van­ished quickly, de­spite many mu­si­cal beau­ties.” But he found the work at hand to be an ex­cep­tion. “His mas­ter­piece,

Die Fledermaus, cer­tainly owed its en­dur­ing and ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess to its charm­ing mu­sic, but the lat­ter would have been un­think­able with­out the gay plot and the Vi­en­nese set­ting.”

Die Fledermaus ran for only 16 per­for­mances in its ini­tial pro­duc­tion. Steiner’s sched­ule did not al­low it to con­tinue longer, as he had an­other show al­ready booked for en­su­ing dates — Verdi’s opera Er­nani, with the star so­prano Adelina Patti. Per­haps he had felt it wise to hedge his bets and re­lease Die Fledermaus in a lim­ited run rather than hope for a larger pub­lic that might not ma­te­ri­al­ize. The sense that it was ill-fated was re­in­forced when the singer play­ing Dr. Falke died onstage. Nonethe­less, Die Fledermaus opened in Berlin that July, and then in Ham­burg. Per­for­mances re­sumed in Vi­enna. By Novem­ber it was also run­ning in Bu­dapest and New York, bring­ing its to­tal per­for­mances in 1873 to 68. Its pop­u­lar­ity only in­creased from there. In 1885, Strauss trav­eled for a three-day fes­ti­val of his mu­sic in Berlin, where he con­ducted the 400th per­for­mance of Die Fledermaus. The cham­pagne corks have con­tin­ued to pop ever since.

“Die Fledermaus” opens at Santa Fe Opera at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, June 30, and con­tin­ues with per­for­mances at 8:30 p.m. on Wed­nes­day, July 5, July 8, and July 14; and at 8 p.m. on Aug. 1, Aug. 7, Aug. 14, Aug. 19, and Aug. 26. Devon Guthrie plays Ros­alinde. Jane Archibald sings Adele. Susan Gra­ham is Prince Orlof­sky; Paula Mur­rihy sings the part on July 14 and Aug. 1. Kurt Streit is Gabriel von Eisen­stein. Joshua Hop­kins plays Dr. Falke. Dim­itri Pit­tas sings Al­fred. David Govert­sen is Frank. Kevin Bur­dette plays Frosch. Santa Fe Opera is seven miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. 84/285. Visit www.santafe­opera.org or call 505-986-5900 or 800-280-4654.

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