Met Opera: Strauss's 'Die Fledermaus'

by Rex Levang
January 11, 2014
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Christopher Maltman as Eisenstein and Susanna Phillips as Rosalinde in Act 2 of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
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The Metropolitan Opera presents Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, which airs at noon on Saturday, Jan. 11.

In classic operetta fashion, the story is both solidly crafted, and light as a feather. One Gabriel von Eisenstein has been sentenced to serve a short jail term. But instead of going to jail, he unexpectedly gets the opportunity to go to a glamorous party — and his wife will not be attending. Needless to say, this change of plan is also accompanied by a change in identity, as Eisenstein disguises himself as a French nobleman. While at the party, he meets a beautiful Hungarian countess. As we might expect, this is in fact his wife, who by virtue of putting on a mask has become completely unrecognizable. (It's that kind of plot.)

But what makes Fledermaus live is not its plot, but the music, which is tuneful, inventive, and always apt for the theatrical situation at hand. Over the years, it's been admired by some of the world's finest musicians, from Mahler to Bruno Walter to Carlos Kleiber.

One word about the title: "Fledermaus" means "bat," as in a flying mammal. There is a connection between the story line and a bat — but the connection is about as tenuous as the one between Hitchcock's 39 Steps and staircases. In this case, the title is meant to entice, to intrigue, to entertain — which Die Fledermaus has been doing successfully ever since its 1874 premiere.