Scottish music lover Thomson Smillie has made a career out of energetically sharing that love, whether he's producing operas or sailing around the world on elite, educational cruise ships in order to lecture rapt audiences on a libretto's finer points. In this installment of Smillie's Opera Explained series, cultivated actor David Timson discusses Die Fledermaus ("The Bat") by Johann Strauss II. The operetta premiered in 1874 and quickly became a sort of "second national anthem" to the Viennese. Listeners can practically see the ballrooms in which Strauss' dance music was performed while Timson gives his warm, guided tour of 19th-century music in Europe.
Die Fledermaus is one of the few operatic works to which the phrase "never a dull moment" can be truthfully applied. From the explosive opening of the famous overture - reminiscent of a volley of champagne corks - through the surging energy of the "Fledermaus Waltz" and the many comic numbers, of which the accelerando trio is the finest, up to such huge concerted numbers as the "Duidu" finale to Act II, this is an operetta which almost incarnates nostalgia.
Thomson Smillie and David Timson infuse their exploration of Die Fledermaus with as much life as the operetta itself. The most rewarding and memorable extracts are included, and the whole piece is tantalizingly introduced - a trip to see it has to be the next step! Timson begins, "'Nostalgia', as the saying goes, 'may not be what it used to be,' but thank goodness we still have Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus!"
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©2002 Naxos AudioBooks (P)2002 Naxos AudioBooks
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"Revenge of the bat"
Why is this opera called "The Bat?" In a nutshell, two gentlemen, Eisenstein and Falke, in the costumes of a butterfly and a bat, respectively, attend a winter masquerade. On the way back, Eisenstein, taking advantage of Falke's inebriated state, abandons him far from his home. When he wakes up, he has to walk through the town in his bat costume, to his undying embarrassment and the amusement of his fellow citizens. Naturally, he wants to get his own back, and it is for this reason the opera is called, "The Bat."
From this simple premise, the plot becomes "maddeningly complex," as the author rightly says. There are "multilayered and omnipresent infidelities," disguises, deceptions, drinking, dancing, and entirely too much carrying on. An opera featuring "Adele's Laughing Song" should be fun!
As with so many things that seem effortless, back-breaking work goes before. While Johann Strauss II hadn't much experience writing for the theatre before he composed this, you'd never know it. He has more than a few operatic tricks up his sleeve, including the masterful use of crescendo and accelerando. The author brings attention to Strauss' use of rubato, which he refers to as "stealing time to avoid schmaltz." Some of the roles require nothing less than a virtuoso performer. But the result is accessible, light-hearted, and fun.
A bottle of champagne to David Timson for his narration, and to you should you tackle "Die Fledermaus" during this, its rightful season!
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