“Si celebri alfine”
“Che interminabile andiri vieni!”
“Bella siccome un angelo”
“Bel conforto al mietitore”
VanNessa Hulme and the Chorus
“Saria possibile?” and “Dell’elisir mirabile”
Daniel Montenegro, Ms. Hulme, and the Women’s Chorus
“Chi è mai quel matto?”
Ani Maldjian and Mr. Montenegro
Act I Finale
Ms. Maldjian, Mr. Montenegro, Mr. Gonzalez, Ms. Hulme, and the Chorus
Prologue: “Vérone vit jadis deux familles rivales”
“Oh! quante volte”
“Mystérieux et sombre”
The Men’s Chorus
“Ah! lève-toi, soleil!”
Mr. Gonzalez, Anne-Marie Reyes, and the Men’s Chorus
“Ô nuit divine!”
Ms. Maldjian and Mr. Montenegro
Ah, Happy Days of Divine Delight!
Come Along to the Ball
Mr. Montenegro and Mr. Gonzalez
What a Joy!
My Dear Marquis! (Adele’s Scene)
Ms. Maldjian, Judy Tran Gallego, Mr. Montenegro, Mr. Gonzalez and the Chorus
Champagne’s Delicious Bubbles
Mr. Gonzalez, Mr. Montenegro, Ms. Maldjian and the Chorus
Sing to Love
Mr. Gonzalez, Ms. Maldjian, Mr. Montenegro and the Chorus
Giuseppe Verdi overcame a humble birth and a number of personal tragedies in his youth to become, and remain, the titan of Italian opera composers. When his first opera was produced in 1839, the Italian stage was dominated by the works of a trio of bel canto masters, Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini. By the time of his last work, the 1893 Falstaff, Verdi had advanced the form to an astonishing degree, both musically and theatrically. Always passionate about the theatrical aspects of his work as well as the musical, Verdi drew on the disparate works of such major authors as Shakespeare, Schiller, Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas fils, and Lord Byron ,in his quest for rich literary sources to enhance his pursuit of new musical forms.
Verdi’s I vespri Siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers) followed his splendid 1851-1853 triumvirate of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. Premiered in 1855 at the Opéra in Paris, it was Verdi’s first fully realized effort to compose a grand opera in the French style (his initial foray into Parisian grand opera, Jerusalem, having been an adaptation of I Lombardi.) Composed to a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveryrier which had originally been offered to the composers Donizetti and Halévy, I vespri Siciliani is based on a true incident in 1282 in which Sicilians rebelled against their French rulers. The rebellion, which began at a church outside Palermo as vespers (evening prayers) were ending, was the first step in Sicily’s successful rebellion against the French king who had been imposed on them by the Vatican. I vespri was only a moderate success in Paris, but Verdi quickly commissioned an Italian libretto by Ettore Caimi. Knowing that the Italian censors would never approve the piece if it were set in Sicily and featured a rebellion against foreign overlords, Verdi and Caimi transferred its location to Portugal in 1640 when it was under Spanish control and renamed it Giovanna de Guzman. However, upon the unification of Italy in 1861, it reverted to its original name. The Italian version is now the most frequently performed.
As he did so often, Verdi focuses on the personal relationships of his characters against the background of more expansive historical and political concerns. The final act begins with the guests arriving at the wedding of the Sicilian duchess Elena to Arrigo, a young rebel who has turned out to be the long-lost son of the French governor. In contrast to the bitter conflict which imbues most of the opera, “Si celebri alfine” is a joyous wedding chorus. The cavaliers and their ladies celebrate with song and flowers the lovers’ union, hoping that it will bring the end of all their sorrows. They rejoice in the peace and love which have ignited the lover’s hearts. The ladies praise the purity and beauty of the bride, and all hail the glory of love.
Domenico Gaetano Donizetti was born in Bergamo in 1797 to a poor family with no musical background, but he went on to become one of the most successful and enduring of 18th Century Italian bel canto composers. Early in his career, he wrote a variety of pieces such as church music, string quartets, and orchestral works, but interest in one of his early operas led to his devoting himself almost exclusively to composing operas, of which he wrote an astounding number (over 70 in a short 12 years). Skilled in both serious opera such as his tragic masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor and comic operas such as Don Pasquale, La fille du régiment and L’elisir d’amore, his works have held the world stage for almost 200 years, to an even greater extent than those of his great contemporaries Rossini and Bellini.
One of Donizetti’s final works among his remarkable output, Don Pasquale is not only among his most popular operas since its Paris premiere in 1843, but among the handful of classic operatic comedies which continue to have wide appeal. Drawing on the familiar characters of commedia dell’arte, the libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Donizetti himself is based directly on an earlier Italian opera, Ser Marcantonio. The plot, however, has distinct similarities to Ben Jonson’s Epicoene, or the Silent Woman (later the basis for Richard Strauss’s 1935 opera Die Schweigsame Frau), as well as numerous Italian commedia scenarios.
Don Pasquale is set in Rome in the 19th century. The title character is an aging, wealthy bachelor who is outraged that his nephew Ernesto wishes to marry for love rather than accept the suitable match which his uncle has arranged. Don Pasquale decides to take a bride for himself and disinherit Ernesto, and is aided in his plan (he thinks) by his old friend Dr. Malatesta. Malatesta suggests that Pasquale marry his devout and beautiful “sister,” who is in reality Norina, the young woman whom Ernesto loves. Delighted by his good fortune, Pasquale enters into marriage (or so he believes, since Malatesta has orchestrated a fake ceremony.) His new wife “Sofronia” (Norina’s alias) instantly turns into a hellish, extravagant shrew and makes Pasquale’s life miserable. Desperate to escape the marriage, Pasquale is bamboozled by a note that Norina has conveniently dropped, which details an assignation with another man in the garden of Pasquale’s house. Thinking that this is his opportunity to free himself, he enlists Malatesta to help him catch the lovers so he can divorce Norina. Malatesta agrees – and tricks Pasquale into allowing Ernesto to marry Norina and reinstating his nephew as his heir. Having secured Pasquale’s promise, Malatesta reveals Norina’s true identity, and Pasquale recognizes that he has been a foolish old man. Forgiving the lovers and his friend for their plot, Pasquale gives his blessing to the marriage and is relieved to be rid of his shrewish “wife.”
In Act II, “Sofronia” has firmly established her rule in the house and overridden Don Pasquale’s objections as a steady stream of gowns, hats, and jewels arrive (accompanied by a mountain of bills.) The final indignity, when Sofronia boxes her husband’s ears before going off to the theater in spite of his protests, has left Don Pasquale desolate and humiliated. Sofronia has also greatly increased the household staff and doubled their wages. The servants excitedly gossip about the domestic uproar and the interminable comings and goings (“Che interminabile andirivieni!”) Kept jumping by the constant ringing of bells to summon them, the servants can never get a moment’s peace. But nonetheless, it’s a grand house, and they marvel at the spending and squandering that is going on. No sooner is lunch finished than the master and mistress make another scene, with the husband insisting that the wife stay home, and the wife doing what she wishes, as she always overcomes his objections. And that nephew seems a piece of work! He doesn’t bother about his uncle’s wishes either, and it appears the mistress dotes on the young man a little too fondly. The servants hush each other (“Zitti, zitti”) as they hear the nephew coming – they must stay quiet and appear as if everything is just as it should be.
In the first scene of the opera, Dr. Malatesta arrives to tell Don Pasquale that he has found the perfect bride for him. Malatesta describes the virtues of this paragon, who is as beautiful as an angel (“Bella siccome un angelo”), as fresh as a morning lily, with eyes that speak and laugh, a glance that conquers every heart, ebony hair, and an enchanting smile. Stoking the flames of Pasquale’s desire, Malatesta goes on to extol her innocent soul, her unparalleled modesty and her sweet and loving kindness to the poor. Surely it was heaven that crafted this perfect creature, who fills the heart with bliss.
Donizetti wrote an extraordinary number of operas between 1810 and 1830 (almost 30 of them) and achieved a fair measure of success in Italy, but it was the premiere of Anna Bolena in 1830 in Milan which brought him international fame. This was closely followed by the great success of L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), which also had its premiere in Milan, in 1832. Donizetti dedicated L’elisir to “the fair sex” of Milan in a letter to his publisher. The libretto is by Felice Romani, based on a libretto by the prolific French playwright Eugène Scribe for Daniel Auber’s Le philtre. Along with Don Pasquale, L’elisir has remained one of the most enduring and popular opere buffe.
L’elisir d’amore is set in a small village in Basque country, circa 1830. The bashful and inept young peasant Nemorino is hopelessly in love with the wealthy young widow, Adina, who pretends indifference to the shy young man. The elixir of love named in the title is first introduced as a theme in the opening scene, in which Adina, the owner of a large farm, mockingly reads the story of Tristan and Isolde (long before its serious treatment by Wagner) to her workers as they celebrate the harvest. Adina doesn’t believe in such potions, but Nemorino does. A troop of soldiers headed by the handsome and conceited Sergeant Belcore arrives in town, and Belcore immediately sets out to win Adina, who is amused and flattered by his attentions. The arrival of the soldiers is closely followed by that of the traveling “Doctor” Dulcamara, who exalts the virtues of his medications to all the assembled soldiers and villagers. Nemorino begs him for a love philtre that will make Adina love him, and Dulcamara obliges with what he says is the same potion as that used by Isolde (in reality, a bottle of ordinary wine.) Having drained the bottle at once, the now confident (not to mention tipsy) Nemorino pretends to be indifferent to Adina. Vexed by his new attitude, she impulsively agrees to marry Belcore. To her and Nemorino’s dismay, however, the troops are ordered to return to their garrison immediately, and Belcore demands that Adina honor her promise of marriage at once, before the soldiers must depart. Nemorino frantically begs her to delay for at least a day (by which time he has been assured the elixir will work its magic.) Vexed with Nemorino’s earlier indifference, Adina consents to the marriage. On the following day, as everyone is gathered for the wedding and Adina now strives to put off signing the marriage contract, Nemorino entreats Dulcamara for another bottle of the elixir. As he has no money, Nemorino’s only recourse to pay for it is to enlist with Belcore’s troop in order to earn a signing bonus. Adina soon realizes that Nemorino has acted out of love for her and her heart is softened. Realizing that she loves Nemorino, she buys back his enlistment papers and admits that she returns his love. Belcore philosophically accepts his loss of Adina and her property, recognizing that, of course, thousands of women still await his pleasure. Dulcamara informs the astonished Adina and Nemorino that the young man is now the heir to his uncle’s considerable fortune, and all ends happily – with none happier than the good doctor, as Nemorino’s success in love causes great demand for his wonderful elixir.
In the opening scene, Adina’s workers are relaxing in the shade of a tree as they celebrate the end of the harvest. They comment how comforting it is to the reapers (“Bel conforto al mietitore”) when the sun is no longer high and scalding, as they rest and catch their breath under a beech tree at the foot of the hill. The burning sun of midday is tempered by the shade and the running stream. Nonetheless, the blazing heat of love can’t be lessened by either shade or stream. How fortunate are the reapers that can resist the power of love!
In Act II, anxious to procure the second bottle of elixir, Nemorino goes off with Sergeant Belcore to enlist and misses the news that his uncle has died and left him a great fortune. The young peasant woman Giannetta is full of the news, however, and can’t resist sharing it with the other village women. They find it hard to believe that it’s possible (“Saria possibile?”), but Giannetta assures them it’s true. When the other women demand that she tell them the details and where and from whom she heard it, she shushes them, telling them not to make an uproar. They shouldn’t spread the word because it’s still a secret. Ginannetta can’t resist displaying her superior knowledge, however, and says that she heard it from the village haberdasher, who told her in confidence. The women exclaim that if she heard it from the haberdasher, then of course it must be true! What exciting news! She again cautions the women not to tell anyone, and they swear they won’t. They can’t help speculating that now that Nemorino is a millionaire, he’ll become a civic leader, a man of worth…and a good match for the lucky woman who marries him. As they see Nemorino approaching, they hide themselves. Nemorino says that he’s drunk the admirable elixir to the full (“Dell’elisir mirabile”) and the doctor has promised him the favor of every beauty. Nemorino is delighted by the renewal of his hope and is about to leave, when first Giannetta and then the other young women curtsy to him. As they exclaim about what a dear he is, Nemorino wonders what has happened to these young women. While they rhapsodize about what a lovable man he is, with the air of a lord, Nemorino exclaims, “I understand!” when he realizes what has happened: it’s the effect of the magical elixir!
In Act I, Nemorino has bought his first dose of the elixir from Dulcamara, who has insisted that he not take it until the following day (by which time Dulcamara will be long gone.) However, Nemorino is so excited about his acquisition that he decides he cannot wait another day – and taking one sip, then another, he quickly finishes the bottle. His spirits lifted by the magic potion, Nemorino begins singing wildly. Adina enters and wonders who the madman is who’s carrying on so (“Chi è mai quel matto?”). Realizing that it’s Nemorino, she wonders why he is suddenly so happy. Nemorino sees her, but decides he won’t approach her right away – she’s tired of his sighs for her right now, but tomorrow her ruthless heart will have to adore him when the elixir takes hold. Adina is surprised and incensed that he is ignoring her. How he has changed! She doesn’t know if his happiness is real, and Nemorino can see she still does not love him. Adina in turn begins to laugh at Nemorino, who is upset by her cruel indifference, but eager for the change that tomorrow will bring. Adina tells herself that he is trying to break the chains that hold him, but the harder he tries, the heavier he will find them. Adina congratulates Nemorino for following her advice and giving up his love for her, and Nemorino says he hopes to forget about her. As Adina presses him about his former passion, he replies that it has been extinguished a little, and in just one day, his heart will be cured. Adina says that’s a relief to her, but that they’ll see if it’s true. Nemorino knows she is mocking him, but is secure in the knowledge that in only one more day, she will love him.
Still annoyed by Nemorino’s feigned indifference, Adina has agreed to marry Sergeant Belcore and sets the date for a week later. Nemorino is unworried because the potion will take effect in one day. In the Act I Finale, however, Gianetta breathlessly arrives with the other villagers and the troops. She announces that the troops have news. When Belcore asks what the trouble is, his solders announce that a courier has just brought a message. Belcore opens it and discovers that their Captain has ordered them to leave immediately. The soldiers are upset at the news and curse their luck at not only leaving their current garrison, but abandoning their new loves. Nemorino is delighted they’re to leave. When Adina promises to be faithful, Belcore proposes that they should marry that evening. Adina notices that Nemorino is worried and impulsively tells Belcore that she will marry him right away. Nemorino bursts out with a passionate plea to at least wait until the next day. Belcore tells him to stay out of it, but Nemorino continues to implore Adina to wait for only one more day. He says that she must believe him that a short delay will save her from making a painful mistake. Belcore berates him as a baboon and a madman, or overtaken by wine. Threatening to strangle or beat him, he orders Nemorino to go away instantly. Adina tells Belcore to have pity on him as he’s just an unwise boy, and a little crazy because he has it in his head that she should love him. To herself, Adina says she’ll pay Nemorino back for his having ignored her, as Nemorino calls out to the Doctor to help him. Giannetta and the villagers are dumbfounded that the Nemorino they regard as a simpleton has the strange presumption to think that he can win Adina from a man of the world like the Sergeant. Belcore continues to harangue the hapless Nemorino as Adina relishes having Nemorino at her mercy. She tells Belcore to inform the notary that they can marry right away. Nemorino is frantic, and now all of them begin to laugh that he really is crazy. Continuing to tease Nemorino, Adina invites all of them to a banquet, and Belcore adds that there will be dancing. The guests are thrilled at the idea of dancing and a banquet. How could they refuse? They will happily pass the evening with the joyful brigade at the party. Only Nemorino is desolate that the others scorn him and make him a laughingstock. As he continues to cry out in vain for the doctor to help him, the others are unable to control their mirth any longer, as all but the wretched Nemorino are carried away by laughter.
Charles Gounod was born in Paris in 1818, the son of a painter who died when Gounod was four. His mother taught music to support them and was his first teacher. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1836 and was the winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome three years later. His four years in Rome inspired in him a life-long love of sacred music and established a love for religious life as well. Upon his return to Paris, he became musical director for a church, followed by a brief period studying to become a priest. However, Gounod opted for a musical career. His first notable success was the Messe Sollennelle (also known as the Saint Cecilia Mass) in 1851, when he also wrote the first of twelve operas. The premiere of Faust in 1859 brought his greatest acclaim, and it remains his most famous and frequently performed work. It not only achieved over 2000 performances in Paris alone in the space of 50 years, it was the opening work at the original Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1883. Gounod was Queen Victoria’s favorite composer, and she requested that sections of Faust be sung to her on her deathbed. Faust, Roméo et Juliette, and his setting of Ave Maria based on a Bach prelude remain Gounod’s most popular creations. He also composed chamber music, oratorios and symphonies throughout his long career, and in later life devoted himself mostly to liturgical music.
When he decided to write an opera based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Gounod turned to Jules Barbier and Michael Carré, the same librettists with whom he had achieved such a sensation with Faust. Although the libretto eliminates many of Shakespeare’s scenes in order to focus on the two lovers, much of the verse is quite faithful to Shakespeare’s original. Roméo et Juliette premiered in Paris in 1867 and achieved a notable success, quickly followed by performances in London and New York within the same year.
In the Prologue, as in Shakespeare’s original, the chorus foretells the story that is about to unfold: In Verona, the two rival families of Montaigu and Capulet (“Vérone vit jadis deux familles rivales”) were locked in an endless war fatal to both, which bloodied the threshold of both their palaces. Then, like a ray shining through a stormy sky, Juliette appeared, and Roméo fell in love with her. The two, forgetting the names that outrage each other, were inflamed by the same love. Deadly fate and blind passion cause these unfortunate lovers to pay with their lives in order to bring to an end the ancient hatred in which their love was born.
Omitting several of the first scenes of the original play, Act I begins with a masked ball at the Capulet’s palace at which Roméo and Juliette will first meet. The guests know that the joyous hours are fleeting (“L’heure s’envole”) and they must seize them as they pass. They will gather the roses as they bloom, with joy and pleasure. The men are under the sway of the capricious songs of love which attract them with a smile and a glance from underneath the velvet masks, while the ladies are intoxicated by the reckless night which urges them on. Even the least tender of men won’t be able to resist the nets cast by the charms of a beautiful woman.
Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, Sicily in 1801 to a musical family, and was soon recognized as a prodigy, allegedly studying music at the age of two and composing his first pieces when he was six. He left Sicily to study at the conservatory in Naples in 1819, and his first forays into opera led to a commission from La Scala in 1827 for the highly successful Il pirata. This led to other important commissions, and from 1830 to 1835 Bellini created the operas which remain his most lasting achievements, among them I Capuletti e i Montecchi, La sonnambula, Norma, and I puritani, which premiered only a few months before his premature death at the age of 34. Bellini and his contemporaries Donizetti and Rossini brought forth the full flowering of the bel canto style. Unlike Donizetti and Rossini, however, Bellini composed no opere buffe, but only works with a serious theme.
I Capuletti e i Montechhi is based on the same original sources from which Shakespeare drew his play, but bears several differences to the version most familiar to us, such as the engagement of Giulietta to her cousin Tybalt, and Romeo’s position as the head of his family. The libretto is by Felice Romani, and Bellini composed the opera in a remarkable six weeks for its acclaimed premiere at La Fenice in Venice in 1830. Notably, the role of Romeo is written for a mezzo-soprano rather than a male voice.
In the second scene of Act I in Bellini’s rendering of the story, Giulietta is found alone in her room lamenting her situation. She is dressed in her wedding garments for her forthcoming marriage to her cousin Tybalt, but secretly in love with Romeo, the head of the family at war with hers. Beholding her dress (“Eccomi in lieta vesta”), she feels she is dressed up like a victim to be sacrificed on an altar. She sees the nuptial torches, so abhorrent, so fatal to her, and exclaims that she is burning with a flame that consumes her. She calls on the breeze to cool her, but in vain. Unaware that Romeo is back in Verona in disguise, she mournfully wonders where he is. How many times (“Oh! quante volte”) – oh, how often has she cried out to heaven for him. With what ardor does she wait for him, but does her desire deceive her? It seems to her that the rays of the sun are like Romeo’s countenance, and the air that surrounds her is like his breath.
In Act II, Roméo has stolen into the garden beneath Juliette’s window. He hears his friends calling to him and hides from them. Mercutio and his friends note Roméo’s strange behavior since his encounter at the ball with Juliette. He is mysterious and somber (“Mystérieux et sombre”) and does not respond to their calls. Love delights in shadow – they hope that love will guide Roméo’s steps.
As his friends disappear in the darkness, Roméo gazes longingly at Juliette’s window. He cries out that the ardor of love troubles his entire being. But what is the light that shines from her window? It is her beauty shining in the night! He calls out for the sun to rise (“Ah! lève-toi, soleil!”). She will cause the stars that shine in the night to pale. She appears – a pure and charming star, and appears to be dreaming as she loosens her hair and a lock caresses her cheek. He begs love to carry his vows to her. How beautiful she is! She speaks, but he hears nothing. It doesn’t matter, for her eyes speak for her, and his heart answers.
Juliette and Roméo declare their love, but hearing people approach, Juliette tells Roméo to hide. The Capulet’s majordomo Gregorio and other servants in Juliette’s household enter the garden to search for Roméo’s page, whom they saw looking for his master. Oblivious to Roméo hiding in the trees, they curse the fact that they can find no one (“Personne! personne!”); the page must have left. They leave him to the devil, and may the devil take him. The rascal was waiting for his master, but jealous destiny has taken him away from their blows. Perhaps tomorrow he will laugh at them, the traitor. Juliette’s nurse Gertrude appears and Gregorio informs her that a Montaigu page and his master have committed an outrage on the Capulet household. Gertrude thinks they are joking, but Gregorio assures her that a Montaigu has come with his friends to the ball. Gertrude is shocked that a Montaigu would dare, and the servants jokingly suggest that perhaps it was for her beautiful eyes that the traitor came? Gertrude indignantly says to let him return, and she’ll make him march right to them, so that he’ll never try it again. Gregorio and the others say they quite believe the nurse, and banteringly wish her a good night, praising her virtue. They hope that heaven will bless her – and confound the Montaigus!
Left alone again in the garden, Roméo calls out to the divine night (“O nuit divine!”), imploring it to leave his heart to this enchanted dream. He fears he will wake and doesn’t yet believe it is real. Juliette calls to Roméo and tells him they can only speak for a moment and then he must leave. Telling him that someone will approach him the next day, she says that if he wishes to wed her, he should let her know on which day, at which hour, in what place – and under the sight of God their union will be blessed. She commits to him her entire life, and she surrenders all that is not Roméo. However, if he wants only a night of passion, then she implores him to never see her again, and leave her to the pain which will fill her days. Roméo kneels before her and promises his adoration. She may dispose of his life like a queen, for she pours into his unquenchable soul all of the light of the heavens. Juliette hears Gertrude calling to her and fears they will be seen together, but Roméo begs her not to flee yet. He takes her hand, asking that she let his hand forget itself in hers, but she begs him to let her hand escape as they say farewell. Farewell is such sweet sorrow that he will only say farewell until tomorrow! Alone, Roméo prays that she will repose in peace. May the smile of a child sweetly rest on her rosy mouth, and murmuring “I love you,” may the evening breeze carry his kiss to her.
Johann Strauss II (also known as “the Younger”) would never have had a career in music if he had followed his father’s wishes. Although Johann the Elder had an extremely successful career as a composer and bandleader, he forbade all three of his sons to become musicians. Fortunately for Vienna, Johann II’s mother secretly arranged lessons for her talented son, who went on to even greater fame than the father. Following in his father’s path composing waltzes, which the Strausses helped transform from a disdained peasant dance to music adopted by high society, Johann II soon became known as the “Waltz King.” He remains famous for such evergreens as The Blue Danube and Tales of the Vienna Woods.
Strauss’ friend Jacques Offenbach (who was so popular in Vienna that he was said to have called the city his bankroll) was the first to urge young Johann to compose for the theater. Almost a decade later in 1871, now internationally famous for his waltzes, marches, polkas and quadrilles, Johann II obliged with two moderately successful operettas before finally striking gold. Die Fledermaus opened in 1874 and was soon not only the toast of Austria and Germany (with over 150 different theaters in Germany performing it within six months of its premiere), but internationally. The operetta reached its apogee in 1894 when Gustav Mahler included it, under his baton, in the schedule of the Hamburg Opera – an overwhelming achievement for an operetta. Strauss himself conducted Fledermaus five years later at the Vienna Opera, and shortly thereafter fell ill with pneumonia. He died a few days later, still the Waltz King of Vienna after fifty years. He was so integral a part of Viennese life that it was later said that the Empire ended with his death in 1899 (although the actual Emperor, Franz Joseph, lived until 1918.) Jacques Offenbach, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi all admired Strauss’ music, and Die Fledermaus remains a favorite of opera houses and theaters worldwide.
Die Fledermaus was based on the popular French farce Le réveillon by Offenbach’s frequent librettists Meilhac and Halévy. Although thought unsuited to German and Austrian audiences (in spite of having been adapted from a German play), the canny Viennese producer Max Steiner gave it to the successful Viennese librettist Richard Genée, who soon found the key to making it “Viennese” and drastically restructured the original. Strauss was delighted with the libretto and was said to have composed non-stop for forty-two nights (supposedly even neglecting to eat and drink) to complete Die Fledermaus.
The title (which means The Bat) refers to a prank once played by the wealthy rake Eisenstein on his friend Falke. Having gone to a costume ball (Eisenstein dressed as a butterfly and Falke as a bat) where they both drank too much, Eisenstein abandoned his friend under a tree. Falke woke (still dressed as a bat) to the jeers of street urchins and the laughter of the town as he walked home. Falke has planned his revenge, and his complicated scheme unfolds during the evening in which Fledermaus takes place.
On the eve of Eisenstein’s going to prison for eight days for insulting a tax collector, Falke has come to bid his friend farewell. Falke tells Eisenstein they should enjoy one last night on the town at a masquerade ball at Prince Orlofsky’s palace. Eisenstein can wait until morning to go to prison, and Falke urges him to “Come along to the ball.” Unable to resist a night of dancing with willing young women, Eisenstein agrees to pose as the Marquis Renard, thereby falling into “the bat’s” trap. He tells his wife Rosalinda and her chambermaid Adele that he is off to prison, although they are puzzled why he is going in full evening dress.
As Act II opens on the ballroom of Prince Orlofsky’s palace, the ball is in full swing. Servants serve champagne and hors d’oeuvres as the elegantly dressed guests happily exclaim, “What a joy to be here!”
Adele, Rosalinda’s chambermaid, has intercepted her mistress’ invitation to the same ball, and on the pretext of visiting a sick aunt, has been given the evening off. The saucy Adele has not only purloined Rosalinda’s invitation, she has borrowed one of her most elegant evening gowns. Eisenstein, who has attended the ball under the name “Marquis Renard,” is introduced to Adele, who is posing as the actress Mlle. Tanya. Both are taken aback when they recognize each other, but Adele braves it out when the “Marquis” claims she looks just like a chambermaid he knows. Pretending to be insulted, Adele is abetted in her ruse by Prince Orlofsky (traditionally a trousers role), who invites the other guests to observe the contretemps. Declaring herself shocked by his effrontery (“My dear Marquis!”), Adele soon wins the other guests to her side as they mock the peeved and confused Eisenstein.
Prince Orlofsky proposes a toast to the glamorous Hungarian countess who refuses to unmask (in reality, Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinda, whom Falke has lured to the ball to witness her husband’s infidelity.) The guests raise their glasses to celebrate “Champagne’s delicious bubbles.”
Seeing that all are carried away by the champagne and the air of romance at the ball, Falke proposes a toast to love and brotherhood, and Orlofsky and his guests gladly “Sing to love.”
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