Work: Die Fledermaus: Overture
About This Work
There's nothing like a good trailer to tell you what's coming up. The overture to Die Fledermaus tempts the listener with sweet melody, bouncy rhythms, and thrilling scoring that hints at the mistaken identity, gala ball, and humorous plot twists
that are to come.
In 1873, Viennese theater owners were looking for an alternative to imported Offenbach, and perhaps were also trying to distract the public from the city's economic depression. The director of the Theater an der Wien purchased the rights to the Parisian vaudeville Le Réveillon by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. He eventually gave the work to the theater's conductor, Richard Genée and Johann Strauss, Jr., to write the operetta. Die Fledermaus, as it came to be known, is about a woman, her lover, her husband, and her maid, a grand ball, and the wrong man being thrown in jail.
The overture starts with a three-note motif, heard in the Act III trio of Rosalinde, Eisenstein (her husband), and Alfred (her lover, who, mistaken for Eisenstein, has been put in jail). The motif is used throughout the overture, insistently telling the audience "Yes, it's me!" as Eisenstein and the others, near the end of the operetta, try to figure out what has happened. Following the overture's opening section, there is an Allegretto, the accompaniment of the Act III trio con moto. It's a light, questioning tune in simple meter, which is answered when the overture next moves into the accompaniment to the theme from the Act III finale, where all is explained. A bridge sounded by horns and flutes leads into rushing violins and the sweeping waltz that is the finale of Act II. The party guests dance to the melody that is equal to Strauss' Blue Danube. This is abruptly followed by the announcement of the next section, a flowing, minor tune that exaggerates Rosalinde's disappointment in Act I at not being able to attend the ball. What follows is the bouncy polka that represents the excitement that Adele's (Rosalinde's maid) and Eisenstein's invitations to the ball bring to them. Brief reprises of the themes from the finales of Acts III and II are heard just before the overture makes its way, with another reference to the polka, to its grand and exciting end.
At the premiere of the operetta, conducted by Strauss, the overture was interrupted several times by applause. One Viennese critic called it the "pièce de resistance" of the operetta. It's a sumptuous glimpse of the memorable melodies that await the Die Fledermaus' audience.
-- Patsy Morita
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