Music by Johann Strauss II, Libretto by Richard Genée and Carl Haffner
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An old flame has come looking for Rosalinde Eisenstein – Alfred, a hot blooded tenor. Rosalinde has long since married – but that does not deter Alfred. He stands beneath her window and sings a serenade. Alfred’s high Cs still have their old insinuating charm. But what a day he has picked!
Rosalinde’s husband is due to report to prison for an eight-day sentence for riotous behaviour. He cannot get out of it, and comes home raging and ranting, deaf to reason. Consolingly, Rosalinde tries to make her husband’s last hours of freedom pleasant. For one thing, she flatly refuses to give the maid, Adèle, the evening off.
Adèle’s excuses are renowned. This time she says her aunt has measles. But in truth she has had a letter from her sister suggesting she ‘borrow’ a dress and attend a ball at Count Orlofsky’s palace. She is desperate to get the evening off. Rosalinde is unmoved; her thoughts are still running on Alfred and his top C.
Just when Eisenstein has settled into a mood of utter dejection, his old friend Doctor Falke arrives. Doctor Falke and Eisenstein have shared a lot of good times together. There was the time, for instance, when they went to a fancy-dress ball with Eisenstein dressed as a butterfly and Falke dressed as a bat; Falke got drunk and Eisenstein, instead of seeing him home, dumped him on a park bench so that in the morning he had to walk home through the city dressed as a bat.
Now Falke has another excursion in mind. As soon as Rosalinde is out of the room, he proposes an evening at Count Orlofsky’s ball. ‘But I have to report to gaol in an hour!’ ‘You can turn yourself in tomorrow morning,’ says Falke, and quickly persuades Eisenstein to accompany him using a false name, of course. (There might even be an opportunity for Eisenstein to get out his infallible pocket watch – the one the girls cannot resist.) Eisenstein hurriedly puts on evening dress, telling his wife that he must face up to gaol in style. The fond farewells begin.
Adèle joins in the lament in much the same mood of suppressed delight as Rosalinda and Eisenstein. For Rosalinde has had a change of heart and decided to give her maid the evening off after all. Rosalinde still has Alfred in mind.
No sooner is Rosalinde left alone in the house than a parcel arrives – a mask, a wig and a cryptic note from Doctor Falke: “If you want to see your husband dancing away his prison term, wear these and come to Count Orlofsky’s palace tonight.”
In high dudgeon, Rosalinde’s plans for evening with Alfred change rapidly. Unfortunately Alfred is not so willing to alter his plans. Amorous and shameless, he makes himself at home in Eisenstein’s clothes, eating Eisenstein’s supper and planning breakfast with Eisenstein’s wife.
When yet another visitor is heard coming up the stairs, Rosalinde is at her wits’ end. It is Frank, the prison governor. Though he too is on his way to Count Orlofsky’s ball, he has come in person to escort his esteemed prisoner to gaol. Seeing Alfred (slightly the worse for drinking Eisenstein’s wine) he immediately assumes it is Eisenstein. Alfred begins to contradict him, but Rosalinde hastily assures the prison governor that this is indeed her husband.
Alfred is a great fatalist. He accepts the situation as unavoidable and makes the best he can of it, with a long goodbye to Rosalinde. Then he surrenders himself into Frank’s custody.
Prince Orlofsky’s parties are legendary. They delight everyone but him. Orlofsky suffers from that terrible disease of billionaires-ennui: everything bores him! He cannot laugh. Tonight, Doctor Falke is his ‘Master of the Revels’ and has arranged something special for the Count’s amusement. Orlofsky promises to pin a medal on Falke’s chest if it makes him laugh.
When the Act opens, the guests are singing in praise of the occasion. Adèle receives a less than warm welcome from her sister. ‘Letter? What letter? I didn’t send you a letter!’ Falke sent it. He greets Adele warmly, congratulates her on her new career as an actress, and rechristens her ‘Tanya’. A moment later Eisenstein arrives, calling himself the Marquis Renard.
First he makes the grave faux pas of mistaking the elegant actress Tanya for his housemaid! The guests take him to task in ‘The Laughing Song’. Adèle joins in. Next, Eisenstein strikes up an undying friendship with Chevalier Chagrin, the pseudonym being used by prison governor Frank. But by the time Falke’s chief guest of the evening arrives – a masked Hungarian Countess – Eisenstein has a pair of dancing girls on each arm and his infallible chiming watch at the ready.
He is extremely taken with the mysterious foreign lady. Being well acquainted with the watch and its uses, the ‘Countess’ (Rosalinde in disguise of course) encourages Eisenstein to put it through its paces. During ‘The Watch Duet’, she manages to take it from him in such a way that he dare not ask for it back. He bewails his disgrace at losing it.
Orlofsky’s entertainments of course include a ballet – an obligatory ingredient in operettas of the period. This one is usually danced to one of the famous Strauss waltzes, although, for the original, Strauss wrote a sequence of national dances Spanish, Scottish, Russian, Hungarian … Then the ‘Hungarian Countess’ obliges the guests by singing a native Hungarian folksong – a Czardas. Then Count Orlofsky toasts the life and soul of the party – ‘Champagne the Great!’ Frank and Eisenstein are, by this stage, inseparable. The mood is one of universal friendship as Orlofsky begins the dancing with a waltz – the waltz!
The clock strikes midnight. Like twin Cinderellas, Eisenstein and Frank scramble out of doors, leaving behind a wake of wrong coats and hats, not realising that they are headed for the same destination.
The Gaol Scene opens with a cameo comic sketch. Frosch, the drunken deputy warder, is suffering from a surfeit of drink and Alfred’s singing in the cells. Frank comes reeling in and falls asleep. Adèle and her sister arrive at the door. They have taken up Frank on his invitation to come and live with him in his ‘big town house’- an offer made while the ‘Chevalier Chagrin’ was not quite himself. Adèle promptly launches into The Audition Song.
No time for applause before the bell rings again. Eisenstein is at the door, reporting for his sentence. Frank refuses to believe Eisenstein is Eisenstein. After all, he arrested Eisenstein the night before, while the prisoner was in his dressing gown, having supper with his wife. Eisenstein demands to see this prisoner, but nobody is allowed into the cells. Fortuitously, his lawyer, Blind, arrives at that very moment. Eisenstein demands the lawyer’s hat, glasses, cape, briefcase and beard (!), and dresses up as Blind. Alfred is brought out to consult with his lawyer. He encounters the latest arrival: Rosalinde is in a state of great agitation, partly because of her husband’s behaviour at the ball and partly because discovery of her supper with Alfred is inevitable.
Alfred explains to his ‘lawyer’ that he has been wrongfully arrested and how it came about. Rosalinde explains how unfortunate it might seem if anyone were to find out about the innocent little supper. They find their lawyer surprisingly hostile. Eisenstein takes off his disguise and confronts them as a wronged husband. But nobody is penitent. Rosalinde dangles the chiming watch under her husband’s nose.
The entire Orlofsky retinue pour in and bring an end to the confusion. Falke has brought the Count and his party-goers to the prison to conclude ‘The Revenge of the Bat’. He explains that every disguise, every pseudonym, every compromising situation was part of his revenge on the man who left him on a park bench dressed as a bat. Rosalinde blames her husband’s excesses on Champagne the Great, and Orlofsky decides to sponsor Adèle in her acting career.
There is a perfect excuse for everyone to break into the Champagne Song – and laughing out loud, Orlofsky pins a medal on Doctor Falke’s chest.
|Rosalinde Eisenstein||Friesia Schuil|
|Gabriel Eisenstein||Geoffrey Strum|
|Doctor Falke||David Ballard|
|Prince Orlofsky||Monica Valcarcel|
|Doctor Blind||Paul Sadler|
|Becky Channon||Mithu Mukherjee|
|Georgina Christmas||Susan Sworn|
|Jenny Bardwell||Dominique Norbrook|
|Hazel Channon||Dianne Norton|
|Margaret Etches||Joanne Robinson|
|Geoff Greensmith||Greg Shaw|
|Hamish Norbrook||Penny Stone|