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"You ought to write operettas, Herr Strauss."
So said French composer Jacques Offenbach to his Austrian counterpart, at a time when Strauss was more known for writing short-form dances. Die Fledermaus, his most famous operetta, is primarily loved for what happens before anyone sets foot on the stage: the eight-minute overture is packed full of tunes from start to finish, all of which end up appearing during the course of the action that follows.
Vienna had been captivated by Offenbach’s numerous operettas. When Strauss, one of their own, began to embrace this musical form, the public was delighted. Translating literally as ‘The Bat’, Die Fledermaus was written over a two-year period from 1873 and is entirely frivolous in nature. The plot is utterly farcical, focusing on mistaken identity, flirtation and a practical joke that has rather unforeseen consequences. Its utter accessibility – both musically and dramatically – made it a sure-fire hit, and ensured that Strauss was inspired to go on and write operetta after operetta over the next twenty-five years.
Strauss himself was at the podium for the very first performance of Die Fledermaus, which took place at the Theater an der Wien on 5 April 1874.
Illustration: Mark Millington
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) as Rosalinde; Edita Gruberova (soprano) as Adele; Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano) as Orlofsky; Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; André Previn (conductor). Philips: 4321572.