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Theatre / Die Fledermaus

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Die Fledermaus ("The Bat") is a comic operetta with music by Johann Strauss the Younger, first performed in 1874. The plot revolves around a Viennese ball, featuring large amounts of deception and mistaken identity, and contains no actual bats; the title refers to a grudge one of the characters holds after being the victim, at an earlier party, of an embarrassing prank involving a bat costume.

Gabriel von Eisenstein, due to spend eight days in jail for a minor offense, bids a sorrowful farewell to his wife and departs — not to jail, but to Prince Orlovsky's ball, where he looks forward to having some fun without his wife's eye on him. Unbeknownst to him, his wife Rosalinde has also been invited to the ball. So has their maid Adele, who they gave the night off after she claimed she needed to visit a sick aunt. And so has the governor of the jail Eisenstein is supposed to be in...

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The opera is often performed in translation, and has been translated into English several times. One version, first produced by Opera Australia in 1997 with Lindy Hume as director, updates the setting to New York in The Roaring '20s, with Prince Orlovsky as a glamorous Russian emigré.

This work provides examples of:

  • Crosscast Role: Prince Orlovsky is a trouser role, played by a female mezzo-soprano.
  • Dances and Balls: The second act of the operetta is set entirely at Prince Orlovsky's ball.
  • Fauxreigner: Several of the guests at the ball — in particular, Eisenstein pretends to be a French Marquis, and Rosalinde to be a Hungarian Countess.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Eisenstein and Rosalinde during the ball.
  • Fidelity Test: Rosalinde attends the ball in disguise after being tipped off about Eisenstein's deception by a mutual acquaintance. Eisenstein, not recognising her, tries to seduce her. She comes away with his watch, which she produces in the final scene to show him she knows he's been misbehaving.
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  • Gratuitous French: Two characters pretending to be French at a Viennese ball exchange simple phrases until the other guests demand they speak German. Later, they share a brief duet with the chorus 'Merci, merci, merci.'
  • I Am One of Those, Too: While pretending to be a French nobleman at the ball, Eisenstein encounters another French nobleman — who, fortunately for him, is no more French than he is. This results in an exchange of simple phrases and nonsense before the other characters insist they speak German.
  • Overly Long Name: Prince Orlofsky's full name and title is His Imperial Highness, Prince Alexander Alexandrovitch Alexandrovsky Petrovich Ivanovsky Orlofsky.
  • Princess for a Day: Adele puts on a fancy dress to attend the Prince's ball and disguises herself as a rising actress. When "Marquis Renard" (Eisenstein in disguise) calls her a lady's maid, the ensemble laughs at the suggestion and she replies with a song asserting her obvious high breeding.
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  • The Problem with Pen Island: The governor of the prison asks Frosch (the jailer who was on duty the previous night) if anything unusual happened, to which Frosch replies "Nichts, würdig Herr Direktor." ("Nothing, worthy governor.") The governor, however, hears it as "Nichtswürdig Herr Direktor" ("Unworthy governor"), and thinks he's being insulted until Frosch clarifies the statement.
  • Rich Boredom: Orlovsky suffers from this.
  • Switch to English: Two characters are pretending to be French at a Viennese ball. They exchange simple phrases and nonsense before the other guests demand they speak German like everyone else.
  • Unfortunate Names: Eisenstein's incompetent defense attorney is named Blind (which means the same thing in German as it does in English).
  • Untranslated Title: The title is usually left as Die Fledermaus even in productions where the text has been translated.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Eisenstein has a ladies' watch that he charms pretty girls with. After he tries it on with his disguised wife, three guesses where she stows the watch. (It is intended to be worn like that, mind, as it's a highly steal-able item.)

Specific productions or adaptations provide examples of:

  • Fauxreigner: Lindy Hume's version one-ups the various fake foreign nobles at the Prince's party by revealing at the very end that the Prince himself is no more authentic than any of them.
  • The Roaring '20s: The setting of Lindy Hume's version.
  • Setting Update: Lindy Hume's version.
  • Translation Matchmaking: In the heyday of The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus was revived on Broadway as The Merry Countess.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In Lindy Hume's version, the surtitles provide a series of Where Are They Now captions at the end, revealing the fates of each character; Adele, for example, started an acting career and became a pioneer of The Method.

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