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The operetta is based on Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy's French vaudeville play, Le réveillon. Karl Haffner translated the play into German, but many sources report that his rendition was so stilted Genée had to begin work on the libretto from scratch. Genée himself claimed never to have met Haffner.
Theater an der Wien, Vienna, April 5, 1874.
A persistent myth concerning Die Fledermaus is that the operetta was a failure upon its premiere in 1874. It is true that the run was interrupted after a mere 16 days, but this was because the theatre had been engaged by another opera company for the period. After this pre-booked engagement ran its course, Die Fledermaus returned to the stage and went on to be seen in over 170 German-language theatres within six years of the premiere. The work was judged to be of sufficient quality for Gustav Mahler to conduct it in a Hamburg production.
“Almost every number set the audience’s hands in motion and at the end of each act Strauss, dripping with sweat, could scarcely leave the conductor’s podium fast enough to thank the audience from the stage for their favour.” Review of the premiere from Konstitutionelle Vorstadt-Zeitung.
Johann Strauss II, who won the title “the waltz king” away from the elder Strauss (after an intense rivalry), did not have his first operetta performed until he was 45 with massive success as a concert-giver and composer of dance music. He had desired a change in his work for some time, finding his fame and concert schedule very stressful.
Vienna’s operetta theatres were, at that time, performing mostly foreign operettas by other popular composers such as Offenbach. Viennese impresarios were on the hunt for locally composed work to mount, and Strauss’s popularity made him an ideal candidate. He resigned his other positions (including the stewardship of the family orchestra) and devoted the rest of his life to composing for the stage. The remainder of his popular waltzes were adapted from these stage works – and, to his frustration – the centerpiece waltzes from his first two operettas were ultimately more popular than the operettas for which they were composed.
The completed operetta was massively successful, but none of his subsequent works were able to achieve the same level of popularity.
Ferdinand Lebrecht, who was playing Dr. Falke in the original cast, died of a heart attack on stage.
The Viennese Stock Exchange collapsed in 1873, resulting in major bank failures and a freeze on lending that substantially affected the European and American economies. (How truly cyclical history is.) It was in response to this economic panic that the co-director of the Theater an der Wien, Max Steiner, initiated the creation of something light, entertaining, and thoroughly uplifting for the Viennese bourgeoisie. And so Die Fledermaus was born.
(centre, l – r) Tamara Wilson as Rosalinde, Michael Schade as Gabriel von Eisenstein and Ambur Braid (kneeling) as Adele in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Die Fledermaus, 2012. Photo: Chris Hutcheson © 2012
This new COC production has been generously underwritten by the Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation.