Reiner's 1950 "Broadway" Fledermaus
Another excellent Obert-Thorn transfer
REINER conducts J. STRAUSS II
RCA Victor Orchestra
Recorded September 20, 1950 in Manhattan Center, New York City
Review of this release: American Record Guide, July/August 2010
One of the new productions planned by Rudolf Bing for his first season as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera (1949-50) was an all-star, Broadway-style revival, in English, of Die Fledermaus. Garson Kanin (the playwright of Born Yesterday and screenwriter of Adam’s Rib) was asked to provide a new book and direct, while Howard Dietz (whose musical theater collaborations with composer Arthur Schwartz included Dancing in the Dark and You and the Night and the Music) would furnish the lyrics. Veteran French coloratura Lily Pons was initially discussed for the part of Adele, and Fritz Reiner was engaged to conduct. The whole production was to be recorded by Columbia Records as part of their ongoing series of complete operas featuring Met personnel.
From early on, however, the original plans began to unravel. Reiner feuded with Kanin over some of the latter’s staging ideas, such as having the conductor face the audience during the overture, and having the chorus lying supine during the “Duidu” portion toward the end of the second act where they would be out of the conductor’s sightline. More significantly, and unbeknownst to the Met management, Reiner had recently switched allegiance from Columbia to its rival RCA Victor, which was planning its own Fledermaus highlights album using Met stars under contract to them, to be conducted by Reiner.
After learning of this, Bing maneuvered to replace Reiner with Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra music director who was a Columbia artist, but who had had limited experience as an opera conductor. Reiner, furious when he heard he had been replaced, happened upon Ormandy in the office of the Met’s musical administrator, and said with his typical dryness, “I hear that you are going to conduct Fledermaus. Do you know the piece?”
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast took shape. Ljuba Welistch, the “Bulgarian bombshell” who had made such a striking impression as Salome under Reiner during the Met’s previous season, would sing Rosalinda. Wagnerian tenor Set Svanholm was an unexpected choice as her husband, Eisenstein. Although Pons had learned the role of Adele, she would sing it only on the Columbia recording. Patrice Munsel was the Adele for the première, and would go on to record the role for RCA, as would the Orlofsky, Rïse Stevens. The production opened on December 20, 1950, and the Columbia recording (reissued on Pristine Audio PACO 030) was begun four days later.
By that time, however, the RCA highlights recording had already been completed for three months. The new Dietz translation being unavailable to the label, a version written by Ruth and Thomas Martin which had been prepared for an NBC television performance during the 1949-50 season was used. Theirs was a fairly straightforward rendering of the Haffner and Genée original, as opposed to Dietz’s much more self-consciously arch reworking. Most of the original numbers were preserved on the nearly hour-long LP, but some had to be limited to a single verse due to timing constraints.
In his essay on the work in Opera on Record, Alan Blyth preferred this highlights collection to the more-complete Columbia recording, finding that “[t]he young Regina Resnik makes a delightfully dizzy Rosalinde, James Melton a lively Eisenstein, Patrice Munsel a spirited Adele” while “Robert Merrill makes much of ‘Brüderlein’, sorry, ‘Brother dear’” and Fritz Reiner conducts the work “with more brio” than Ormandy.
The present transfer was made from the best portions of several American RCA pressings (plum “shaded dog”, red “shaded dog” and even 45 rpm discs). Despite the presence of Reiner and several celebrated singers, RCA has not made this recording available in any form for nearly half a century. We are happy to rectify that oversight now.
3 Here’s a letter from my sister
4 When these lawyers don’t deliver
5 Come along to the ball
6 To part is such sweet sorrow
7 Drink, my darling, drink to me
8 Good sir, what can you think of me
9 My lovely, lively pigeon house
11 From time to time I entertain
12 My friends, your kind attention
13 My dear Marquis (Adele’s Laughing Song)
14 How he prances and romances
15 Voice of my homeland (Czardas)
16 Champagne’s delicious bubbles
17 Sir Chevalier, votre santé … Brother dear
18 Enough, my friends, enough
20 Last night I had adventures
21 Oh, Eisenstein, oh, Eisenstein
Die Fledermaus (The Bat; in French: La chauve-souris) is an operetta composed by Johann Strauss II to a German libretto by Carl Haffner and Richard Genée.
The original source for Die Fledermaus is a farce by German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix (1811–1873), Das Gefängnis (The Prison). Another source is a French vaudeville play, Le réveillon, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. This was first translated by Carl Haffner into a non-musical play to be produced in Vienna. However, the peculiarly French custom of the réveillon (a midnight supper party) caused problems, which were solved by the decision to adapt the play as a libretto for Johann Strauss, with the réveillon replaced by a Viennese ball. At this point Haffner's translation was handed over for adaptation to Richard Genée, who subsequently claimed not only that he had made a fresh translation from scratch but that he had never even met Haffner.
Baron von Eisenstein has been sentenced to eight days in prison for insulting an official, partially due to the incompetence of his attorney, Dr. Blind. Adèle, Eisenstein's maid, receives a letter from her sister, who is in the company of the ballet, inviting her to Prince Orlofsky's ball. She pretends the letter says that her aunt is very sick, and asks for a leave of absence ("My sister Ida writes to me"). Falke, the Baron's friend, arrives to invite him to the ball (Duet: "Come with me to the souper"). Eisenstein bids farewell to Adèle and his wife Rosalinde, pretending he is going to prison (Terzett: "Oh dear, oh dear, how sorry I am") but really intending to postpone jail for one day and have fun at the ball.
After Eisenstein leaves, Rosalinde is visited by a former admirer, the singing teacher Alfred, who serenades her ("Dove that has escaped"). (Why she lets a man not her husband into her boudoir is never explained.) Frank, the governor of the prison, arrives to take Eisenstein to jail, and finds Alfred instead. In order not to compromise Rosalinde, Alfred agrees to pretend to be Eisenstein and to accompany Frank. (Finale, drinking song: "Happy is he who forgets" followed by Rosalinde’s defence when Frank arrives: "In tête-à-tête with me so late," and Frank’s invitation: "My beautiful, large bird-cage.")
A summer house in the Villa Orlovsky
It turns out that Falke, with Prince Orlofsky's permission, is orchestrating the ball as a way of getting revenge on Eisenstein. The previous winter, Eisenstein had abandoned a drunken Falke dressed as a bat (and thus explaining the opera's title) in the center of town, exposing him to ridicule the next day. As part of his scheme, Falke has invited Frank, Adèle, and Rosalinde to the ball as well. Rosalinde pretends to be a Hungarian countess, Eisenstein goes by the name "Marquis Renard," Frank is "Chevalier Chagrin," and Adèle pretends she is an actress.
The ball is in progress (Chorus: "A souper is before us") and the Prince welcomes his guests ("I love to invite my friends"). Eisenstein is introduced to Adèle, but is confused as to who she really is because of her striking resemblance to his maid. ("My lord marquis," sometimes referred to as "Adèle's Laughing Song").
Then Falke introduces the disguised Rosalinde to Eisenstein (Czardas: "Sounds from home"). During an amorous tête-à-tête, she succeeds in extracting a valuable watch from her husband's pocket, something which she can use in the future as evidence of his impropriety. (Watch duet: "My eyes will soon be dim"). In a rousing finale, the company celebrates (The Drinking song: "In the fire stream of the grape"; followed by the canon: "Brothers, brothers and sisters"; and the ballet and waltz finale, "Ha, what joy, what a night of delight.")
In the prison offices of Governor Frank
The next morning they all find themselves at the prison where the confusion increases and is compounded by the jailer, Frosch, who has profited by the absence of the prison director to become gloriously drunk.
Adèle arrives to obtain the assistance of the Chevalier Chagrin (Melodrama; Couplet of Adèle: "If I play the innocent peasant maid") while Alfred wants nothing more than to get out of jail. Knowing of Eisenstein's trickery, Rosalinde wants to begin an action for divorce, and Frank is still intoxicated.
Frosch locks up Adèle and her sister Ida, and the height of the tumult arrives when Falke appears with all the guests of the ball and declares the whole thing is an act of vengeance for the "Fledermaus". (Terzett between Rosalinde, Eisenstein, Alfred: "A strange adventure"). Everything is amicably arranged (with Eisenstein blaming the intoxicating effects of champagne for his act of infidelity and Orlofsky volunteering to support Adèle's artistic career), but Eisenstein is compelled to serve his full term in jail (Finale, "Oh bat, oh bat, at last let thy victim escape").
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Fledermaus
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