Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 43

july 26
Opera Finale:
Die Fledermaus
he Viennese traditionally live in two countries.
One is on the map. The other is an imaginary region
where wine flows, love triumphs, and everything is
silk-lined. This is the land of the waltz.” So wrote
Hans Fantel in an article for
Opera News
some years ago,
appropriately titled “Empire of Dreams.” This is the land
we visit tonight.
Champagne, waltzes, elegant ballrooms, glittering
chandeliers, romantic strolls through the Prater,
splendid buildings and infectious gaiety are the nostalgic
images conjured up by Vienna of the late-19th century.
Composers like Lehár, Kálmán, Millöcker and von Suppé
are indelibly associated with that era of high spirits
and ebullience, primarily through the medium of the
waltz and operetta. Though all the above contributed
significantly to the repertory of light, magical Viennese
music, one man stands out as an immortal—Johann
Strauss, Jr., the “Waltz King.”
Johann Junior (1825-1899) was the first of six children
born to Johann Senior. Although the father was an
accomplished composer (his
Radetzky March
being his
best known work today) and conductor of international
fame, he was determined that his sons pursue non-
musical careers. Johann Jr. worked for a period as a
bank clerk, but with his mother’s blessing, he studied
music on the sly. On October 15, 1844, he threw off the
yoke of such uninspiring employment. He had secured
an engagement at Dommayer’s Garden Restaurant,
and leading a small orchestra through the evening’s
entertainment, Johann scored an immediate and
resounding success. Strauss Sr. had strongly protested
the whole affair, but the son tactfully ended the
program with one of his father’s most popular waltzes.
One newspaper the next morning wrote: “Good night,
Lanner [another popular composer of waltzes]. Good
evening, Father Strauss. Good morning, Son Strauss.”
Strauss was already 45 and world-famous before he
turned to operetta. Waltzes like the
Blue Danube, Tales
of the Vienna Woods
Wine, Women and Song
; and
polkas like
Tritsch-Tratsch, Thunder and Lightning
Im Krapfenwaldl
were already behind him. His
first complete stage work,
Indigo, or the Forty Thieves
launched Strauss’ new career at the Theater an der
Wien, the same theater that had seen premieres of
Magic Flute
and Beethoven’s
Die Fledermaus
(The Bat), his third stage work, followed in 1874 and
became not only the most famous Viennese operetta
ever written, but one of the most amazingly successful
stage shows of all time.
Strangely enough, it had a difficult birth. WhenMaximilian
Steiner, director of the Theater an der Wien, examined the
text he had purchased sight unseen, he blanched and had
little desire to ask anyone to set it to music. The libretto
was adapted from the French play
Le Réveillon
, by Meilhac
and Halévy (Offenbach’s librettists), which had in turn
been based on a German comedy by Roderich Benedix.
Steiner was eventually persuaded by Strauss’ publisher to
set it to music, with major editing of
the storyline. Strauss himself loved it.
After all, it centered on a ball, and he
certainly knew how to write dance
Die Fledermaus
on April 5, 1874, but the stock
market crash of the year before
still had the Viennese in a
sour mood, and many were
not interested in a story
full of fun and frivolity,
especially one that featured
the shenanigans of bored
rich people. It ran for a
mere 16 performances, then
closed. It played to great success
in Berlin, Hamburg, Paris,
Prague and Budapest before
it was truly appreciated in
Vienna. But by September the
mood had changed again, and
when it was reinstituted into
the repertory of the Theater an
der Wien, it stayed there. By
1894 it had become so
Johann Strauss, Jr.
October 25, 1825, Vienna
June 3, 1899, Vienna
Die Fledermaus
Johann Strauss, Jr., in the early 1890s.
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