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Johann STRAUSS Junior (1825-1889).
Opera Explained Series: ‘Die Fledermaus’.

An Introduction to… ‘Die Fledermaus’ by J Strauss Jr (1825-1899)
Opera or operetta?
The history of the times and the Strauss family
The background to Die Fledermaus and the overture
The story begins
Dr Falke
Act I-‘Finale’
Act II - Prince Orlofsky's palace
Mistaken identities
Rosalinde's ‘Czardas’
Act II-‘Finale’
Strauss ‘dance numbers’
Act III - in the jail
The Bat's revenge
Written by Thomson Smillie. Narrated by David Timson.
Die Fledermaus extracts from Naxos 8.660017-18.
Bargain Price
NAXOS 8.558070 [79.34]


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The disc opens with the title being announced followed by a minute of the overture before the narrative returns with the overture in the background. This first part of the narrative relates to why we might be enamoured of the music of our great grandparents before, on the second track, there is over three and a half minute discourse on the difference between opera and operetta. No trite commentary this, when the differentiation includes reference to ‘Opera Comique’, spoken dialogue in Fidelio, and how ‘Grand Opera’ might be defined - with Don Carlos and Aida getting a mention. All this before, in the last half-minute or so of the track, returning to Strauss. Track 3 gives a perspective of the times and the larger Strauss family, all with brief orchestral illustrations of marches and waltzes, particularly waltzes, so brief as to be frustrating! The argument about the difference between opera and operetta is quite erudite and I began to wonder for, or at, whom the disc, one of a series, is aimed. The rather prissy, constantly eulogistic, narrative presentation would put off most youngsters, whilst their elders might share my frustrations, particularly at dragging Richard Strauss and Wagner into the discussion and musical illustrations (still tr 3).

In tr 4 we get back to Die Fledermaus and its overture. No I was wrong, we don’t; we are told that the narration will resist discourse on the stylistic differences between preludes and ‘Italian’ overtures. None the less reference, verbal and musical, is made to the overtures of Die Zauberflöte and Fidelio. But I shouldn’t have worried; 5 minutes into tr 4 we are back to a detailed analysis of this opera’s overture. By 7 minutes in we get reference, aural and musical, to La Boheme! Rallentando, vibrato and schmalz all get an airing whilst tr 5 starts with a discourse on the social class of the characters; valid I suppose. I could go on nit-picking, particularly having been somewhat irked by the early approach. However, putting my prejudices to one side I found much more interest from tr 5 onward where the intricacies of the opera and the characters are clearly explained, with specific and appropriate illustrations from Naxos’s own recording conducted by Johannes Wildner. I got to enjoy the journey, and some illustrations made me think anew about aspects of the work’s character before my thoughts returned to the subject of who would be the target purchasers? I don’t know the answer but a cynical thought hit me. I had always thought of Die Fledermaus as being producer proof until I recently saw a production of the work by the Catalan Calixto Bieito. This deconstruction (more like destruction) involved the male chorus dropping their pants and donning tutu skirts, amongst other antics, to the extent that the audience were bemused as to what was supposed to be going on, with many leaving the performance part way through. At the Naxos price this disc could have been given away free with every ticket sold and then the audience might have made sense of what was happening on the stage. My cynicism aside, this ‘Introduction’ is worthwhile and enjoyable in its own terms. Despite my earlier frustrations I consider it is worthy of purchase by anybody either new to opera in general or to this work in particular.

Robert J Farr

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