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Johann Strauss jr.

The Bat

Johann Strauss - Die Fledermaus
The  New Years Eve 1983  
Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden performance conducted by Placido Domingo. 

Kiri Te Kanawa -  Rosalinde
Hildegarde Heichele -  Adele
Herman Prey - Eisenstein
Doris Soffel - Prince Orlofsky

Usually Johann Strauss did not seem to care much whether his libretto was a good one or a bad one. He was renowned as the Waltz King, and he wrote fine waltzes—and other good tunes—almost equally well for stupid books and for good ones. Die Fledermaus happens to be a good one. That means—for an operetta—that it has brightness throughout, it has characters who are quickly recognized as types and yet are strongly individualized, and it has a story at once amusing and yet so preposterous that no one can feel bad when anyone gets into trouble.

The story was over twenty years old when Strauss got it. It had first been a German play by Roderich Benedix entitled The Prison. Then it became a French play by Meilhac and Halevy (the librettists of Carmen). Finally, it came back into the German language when Carl Haffner and Richard Gen6e made an operetta libretto of it expressly for Strauss. Gen6e, incidentally, was himself a composer, but he wrote a number of excellent librettos for Strauss. In this sense he was to Strauss just what Boito was to Verdi.

It is the most successful and widely loved of all of the Strauss operettas. And its music is so good—and offers so many opportunities to fine singers—that it is often (as with our own Metropolitan) the only operetta in the repertoire of a great opera house.



(The Bat)

Operetta in three acts by Johann Strauss with libretto in German by Carl Haffner and Richard Genee, based on a French comedy, Le reveillon by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy

Gabriel von Eisenstein, a wealthy Austrian
Rosalinda, his wife
Adele, her maid
Alfred, a tenor

Dr. Falke, a friend of Eisenstein's
Dr. Blind, Eisenstein’s attorney

Prince Orlofsky, a rich Russian
Frank, governor of the prison
Frosch, the jailer
Ida, Adele’s sister


Time: about 1870

Place: probably Vienna
First performance at Vienna, April 5, 1874



Gabriel von Eisenstein:

Tenor. Husband of Rosalinde. He has committed a minor offence which carries a short prison sentence and is preparing to serve it. His friend Dr Falke collects him and they pretend to leave for the prison. In reality they go to Prince Orlofsky's ball. There Eisenstein, introduced as ‘Marquis Renard’ meets ‘Chevalier Chagrin’ and the two men converse in terrible French. He flirts with a masked Hungarian countess, not knowing it is his wife. Among the guests he recognizes Adele, his wife's maid. At 6 a.m. he leaves for the prison. On arrival he finds that ‘Chevalier Chagrin’ is Frank, the prison governor, and that his cell is already occupied—by his wife's singing‐teacher, Alfred. Rosalinde and Falke both arrive at the gaol and the confusion is sorted out.
Created (1874) by Jani Szika.

Rosalinde von Eisenstein:

Soprano. Wife of Gabriel von Eisenstein. When he leaves to serve a prison sentence, she is serenaded by her singing‐teacher, Alfred. She goes to Prince Orlofsky's ball, masked and gowned as a Hungarian countess, and her husband does not recognize her. Also at the ball is her maid, who has ‘borrowed’ one of her mistress's dresses. Aria: Klänge der Heimat (‘Strains of my homeland’—the Csárdás). Created (1874) by Marie Geistinger.

June Anderson sings the Czardas from Die Fledermaus, Zubin Mehta conducts, New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve Gala, 31 December 1990


Soprano. The Eisensteins’ maid. With her sister Ida, she goes to Prince Orlofsky's party, wearing a dress she has ‘borrowed’ from her mistress. At the ball she meets another guest—Eisenstein. Later that night she visits the governor of the local gaol, whom she has also met at the ball, and again bumps into Eisenstein. It all ends good‐humouredly. Aria: Mein Herr Marquis (‘My dear Marquis’—known as the ‘laughing aria’). Created (1874) by Karoline Charles‐Hirsch.

Die Fledermaus - Johann Strauß jr.
Gabriel van Eisenstein - Bernd Weikl
Rosalinde - Lucia Popp
Frank - Erich Kunz
Alfred - Josef Hopserwieser
Adele - Edita Gruberova

Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper - Theodor Guschlbauer


Tenor. Singing teacher of Rosalinde, wife of Gabriel von Eisenstein. While her husband is serving a brief prison sentence, Alfred takes advantage to spend the evening with Rosalinde. Found in the house by the prison governor, Frank, he is assumed to be Rosalinde's husband and is escorted to gaol. Aria: Trinke, Liebchen, trinke schnell! (‘Drink up, darling, drink up quickly!’). Created (1874) by Herr Rüdinger.

Strauss Die Fledermaus, Trinke liebchen, trinke schnell

Dr. Falke:

Baritone. A friend of the Eisensteins. He collects Eisenstein to escort him to prison, but he has arranged that en route they will go to Prince Orlofsky's party. Here Falke plots his revenge on Eisenstein, who once made a laughing‐stock of him in their village by leaving him to walk home alone after a fancy‐dress party, wearing the costume of a bat. Aria (with chorus): Brüderlein und Schwesterlein (‘Brotherhood and sisterhood’). Created (1874) by Ferdinand Lebrecht.

"Brüderlein und Schwesterlein"("Die Fledermaus")

Dr. Blind:

Tenor. Eisenstein's lawyer. Created (1874) by Herr Rott.

Prince Orlofsky:

Mezzo-soprano. Travesti role. A young, rich, bored Russian prince. Nothing amuses him, until he hears the story of how Eisenstein left Falke alone to walk through the village after a fancy‐dress party dressed as a bat. At the party which Orlofsky gives, Falke plots to get his own back on Eisenstein. Orlofsky's guests are entertained lavishly—everyone must drink champagne with him. Aria: Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein (‘I like inviting guests’—usually referred to as Chacun à son goût—‘Each one to his own taste’). Created (1874) by Irma Nittinger.

Die Fledermaus - Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein 
Prinz Orlofsky: Brigitte Fassbaender


Baritone. The Governor of the Prison in which Eisenstein is to serve a sentence. The two men meet at Prince Orlofsky's ball, each unaware of the other's identity—they are introduced to each other as French noblemen (Frank is ‘Chevalier Chagrin’) and struggle to talk in very poor French. Back at the prison, they are astonished to meet again, now in their natural state. Created (1874) by Herr Friese.


Spoken. The gaoler at the prison. He has difficulty trying to stop Alfred singing in his cell. This role provides a great opportunity for a comic actor. Created (1874) by Herr Schreiber.


Soprano. Sister of Adele (maid of Rosalinde). Ida invites Adele to attend Prince Orlofsky's ball. Creator ( 1874 ) not traced. 



The overture—the most famous one Strauss composed—is made up of several tunes from the operetta itself. Most of these come from the last act, which takes place in the prison. But the one tune that predominates—the one everyone remembers—is the great waltz, which is heard in the extremely festive Act II.


The scene is an empty room in the home of the well-to-do Gabriel von Eisenstein, and the first sounds heard are the dulcet, off-stage notes of a tenor serenading one Rosalinda. Adele, the maid, enters on a cadenza. She reads a letter from her sister, a ballet girl, telling her that the entire ballet company has been invited to a fine party that night. Can Adele get an evening dress and come? Adele sadly wishes she could, but she fears she will not be allowed to. She is right. Her mistress, Rosalinda, will not hear of it, even though Adele tearfully pleads the excuse of a sick aunt. The trouble is that Rosalinda’s husband must begin a five-day sentence in prison that very night. Rosalinda is duly distracted, but she shows considerable interest when that tenor is heard again, singing his serenade. He enters a moment later and turns out to be Alfred, who once had loved Rosalinda and now, soon after her marriage, has returned, hoping for better luck this time. He promises to leave only if Rosalinda will see him when her husband is safely in jail. Unable to resist the thrill of his high C’s, the young lady consents.

Her husband, the master of the house, now storms in with his lawyer, Dr. Blind. Blind has made a mess of things at court with the result that Eisenstein will now have to serve eight days instead of only five. A trio develops in which the Eisensteins blame the lawyer, and the lawyer tries to excuse himself.

While Rosalinda is off finding some old clothes for her husband to wear in prison, enter one Dr. Falke. He is an old friend of Eisenstein’s, but he bears him a grudge. Once—as a practical joke—Eisenstein had forced Falke to walk through town, in broad daylight, in a carnival costume. He had been dressed as a bat—which is the reason for the title of the operetta. Falke now invites Eisenstein to go to a big party that night, with lots of girls. He can give himself up at the prison in the morning—and Rosalinda will never know. Eisenstein is delighted. He asks for evening clothes to go to prison in, explaining, lamely, that it is a most distinguished prison. As for Rosalinda, she is too much concerned about her old lover’s coming back to query this change of costume. In fact, she has given Adele the night off after all for the same reason. And so there is a fetching trio of farewell between Rosalinda, Eisenstein, and Adele.

With all the others gone Alfred returns for his rendezvous. He is just a bit tipsy, but highly melodious. They are interrupted by Frank, the new governor of the prison, who has become impatient for his new prisoner and so is calling for him personally. Frank is a gay fellow. In fact, he, too, is planning to attend that party. But for appearance’s sake Rosalinda fobs Alfred off on him as her husband, and so it is Alfred who must go to jail. The tenor’s only recompense is a warm farewell kiss—but what can he do? And so the act ends with another gay trio.

Act II

Act II takes us to that party we heard so much about during Act I. It is given by a gay, dissolute, and extremely wealthy young Russian named Prince Orlofsky. The part is written for a mezzo-soprano but is sometimes sung by a tenor. (Incidentally, this character, it is speculated, was based on either one of two young Russian rouds who operated in Napoleon III’s Paris—either Prince Paul Demidov or Prince Narashkine.) The party is a very gay one, indeed. Dr. Falke has arranged a good deal of it, and he introduces the maid Adele as an actress and Eisenstein as the Marquis Renard. Presently the Prince sings his famous number, Chacun a son gout— that is, everyone must have a good time according to his own taste. The gaudily refurbished Adele and Eisenstein run into each other, but the maid laughs off her master’s recognition with a highly fetching song. She says her speech and costume show her to be anything but a maid. Frank, the prison governor, is also introduced as a nobleman (the Chevalier Chagrin), and finally Rosalinda herself comes on, wearing a mask and disguised as a Hungarian countess. She offers convincing proof of her nationality by singing an extremely Hungarian czardas.

She is there, of course, by arrangement with Falke, and she proceeds to flirt so successfully with her own husband that she manages to take his watch from him as a souvenir. In the general merriment that follows, everyone becomes great friends —especially Eisenstein and Frank, who (though they don’t know it) will soon meet at the prison in their real-life roles. Eisenstein leads the whole crowd in a song praising the champagne that flows so freely. (At this point a ballet is frequently introduced.) The Prince then demands that everyone dance, and to the tune of the familiar waltz the party goes on till six in the morning. It is only then that Eisenstein and Frank —prisoner and jailer—remember they have business to attend to. With great merriment the party breaks up.


The final act takes place in the front office of the jail, but it is a very cheerful type of jail, as the brisk little orchestral prelude suggests. Temporarily it is presided over by Frank’s assistant, Frosch, the jailer. Apparently he has been drinking slivovitz all night, and he is in high and frothy spirits as he jabbers about it. Off-stage, from Cell No. 12, comes the tenor voice of Alfred, who has been, perforce, spending the night there under the name of Eisenstein. Pretty soon the governor of the prison comes in, still in evening clothes, still a bit high. Frosch reports that the prisoner in No. 12 has called for a lawyer, and so Dr. Blind has been sent for. But the first visitors to show up are Adele and her sister Ida, both fresh from the party. Adele admits she is only a chambermaid, but in a fine and witty aria she shows off her talents as an actress—ingenue, grande dame, leading lady, anything. Next, enter Eisenstein, who is delighted to learn that his new friend the Chevalier Chagrin is only the new prison governor. However, he can not believe that Eisenstein is already in jail!

But when both Dr. Blind and Rosalinda have arrived, things become really complicated. Eisenstein manages to disguise himself in the lawyer’s professional garb and proceeds to examine both Rosalinda and Alfred. He gets the story of their rendezvous out of them, doffs his disguise, and accuses them in great anger. Rosalinda, however, has his watch to prove that extracurricular flirting is really a pastime shared by both. Furthermore, it is explained to Eisenstein that this flirtation was only a part of the great hoax engineered by Falke in revenge for the practical joke of the Bat. At the end everyone from the party arrives, including Prince Orlofsky. Chacun son go&t, he cries once more—and he agrees to take Adele under his wing to see that she becomes a real actress.

How should such an operetta end? Why, with a joyful chorus, of course—in praise of champagne. And so it does.

J. Strauss II - Die Fledermaus - 1955

Gabriel von Eisenstein -  Nicolai Gedda (tenor)

Rosalinde - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)

Alfred - Helmut Krebs (tenor)

 Adele - Rita Streich (soprano)

 Dr. Falke - Erich Kunz (baritone)

 Frank - Karl Doench (baritone)

 Prince Orlowsky - Rudolf Christ (tenor)

Dr. Blind - Erich Majkut (tenor)

Ida - Louise Martini (soprano-speaker)

Frosch - Franz Boeheim (speaker)

Conductor Herbert Von Karajan

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