THE QUEENS’S LACE HANDKERCHIEF
Operetta by Johann Strauss
In 1879, Johann Strauss was looking for a new libretto, and in a roundabout way he found one. Heinrich Bohrmann, theater director in Pressburg, had an idea for a musical comedy called “Cervantes.” He had asked Franz von Suppé to set it to music, but the latter declined. Through the agency of publisher Gustav Lewy, Bohrmann’s script eventually reached Johann Strauss, who immediately agreed to compose the music, albeit in an adapted form. The operetta premiered under the title “The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief” on October 1, 1880, at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, with a lavish set and prominent cast. By 1900 a hundred performances had taken place in Vienna alone and the piece was working its way into the repertoires of German theatres.
The operetta was inspired by the life and work of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who turns out to be the real hero of the story. With a couple of intrigues and a brilliant speech, the poet manages not only to save the marriage of the Portuguese king, but also to rescue him from the clutches of scheming advisors. For the young king doesn’t really feel like governing at all, and the country’s prime minister uses the situation to his advantage. By having him brought up as a womanizer and epicurean under the royal tutor Sancho, he effectively keeps the king from his business of running the state and estranges him from the queen in the process.
Thus, Cervantes’ role is to help the queen and reawaken the king’s interest in his wife. This turns out to be a formidable task - especially since the king is convinced the queen is having an affair with the poet. The evidence: one of the queen’s lace handkerchiefs on which she’s supposedly inscribed a declaration of love to the poet. Yet with words well spoken, Cervantes promptly puts a new spin on the romantic message and persuades the king of his wife’s fidelity. To the dismay of his ministers, the poet succeeds in bringing the king to his senses, and the latter realizes it’s time he take responsibility for his country. The king’s initial weariness fades away - his country and marriage are saved…
The audience at the premiere was enthralled by the story’s situation comedy and imaginative power. The press praised the seemingly inexhaustible musical inventiveness of Johann Strauss, and leading Viennese cultural critic Eduard Hanslick prophesied a bright future for the operetta’s waltz motifs. And so it was - the waltz medley “Roses from the South” composed shortly thereafter, with musical themes drawn from “The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief,” is to this day one of Johann Strauss’ most popular compositions.
shorttime changes in the evening’s cast possible due to illness and force majeure