Operettas are a rare treat; they are a chance to go outside of the confines of traditional opera, really let loose upon a play and have a merry time with music. But they are also blisteringly difficult to do well, precisely because they straddle the line between opera and straight play. The best of the genre embrace both sides of their legacy with open arms, even at times mocking the intersection between the two genres. But it is that careful navigation that makes or breaks an operetta.
“Die Fledermaus,” the operetta by Johann Strauss II, began its long life as a satirical celebration of the flirtatious, wine-soaked, waltz-timed frivolity of late 19th-century Habsburg Vienna. That world and its manners and mores are so long-gone that what was satire now comes across as situation comedy.
Recently the city of Gaithersburg hosted a free outdoor performance of “Die Fledermaus” with the glorious music written in the 1870’s by none other than the Viennese “Waltz King” Johann Strauss II.
The performance featured English dialogue and German singing performed by the members of the Bel Cantanti Opera Company based in Silver Spring.
The setting is the late 19th century Vienna, the home of Gabriel Von Eisenstein, a wealthy man about town, who loves a good practical joke. At the center of the opera is the fledermaus, a German word for “winged bat”. Which also refers to the drunken man dressed as a bat named Falke. But what happens when that friend hatches an elaborate scheme to teach the womanizing Von Eisenstein a lesson he won’t soon forget? Bent on revenge Falke deliberately asks Rosalinde (the wife of Eisenstein) to come in disguise to the grandest masked ball of the season, where the champagne flows freely and identity is obscured until the next day when everyone arrives at the jail for the finale.
I have two clips for you one of the overture (which gives a snip of all of the music of the operetta and the waltz). This operetta is the best way to introduce people to opera with its beautiful music and comic plot, but don’t take my word judge for yourself.