Cervantes or Das Spitzentuch der Königin (The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief)
In the beautifully and lavishly designed program book (thanks to generous support from the Marion Ehrhardt Foundation, Sintra) for the concert production of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s operetta (Cervantes or) The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief, which took place at the Landestheater Coburg on 06/26/2006, Ralph Braun makes the following statement regarding his interpretation of the work:
“My goal was to develop a well-substantiated interpretation which shows all elements of the work in a reasonable context and logical sequence. The operetta The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief, which premiered on October 1, 1880, at the Theater an der Wien, tells the fictitious tale of an underage Portuguese king raised by his malicious guardian to be unable to rule. This also renders him incapable of forming relationships, making offspring impossible and thereby threatening the dynasty with extinction. The guardian (Premier) wants to hand Portugal over to Spain, which would mean the downfall of the Portuguese nation. (Such efforts were, in fact, pursued by Spain over many centuries).
The Spanish poet Cer¬vantes, who fled to Portugal to escape his persecutors, wants to help to liberate the king from this seemingly hopeless dilemma. With his intelligence, his rhetoric and his courage, he succeeds during the course of the work in guiding the king, now bolstered by Cervantes’ insight, to seize back power and reconcile with the queen. The conspirators are expelled from the country. The operetta ends on a conciliatory and optimistic note.
The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief debates the issue of which attributes man must have and contribute to a society in order to make it flourish and to strengthen it, as well as to be able to lead a meaningful, fulfilled and happy life in it. This is humorously carried out, especially in the solo numbers. The audience can reflect while being amused and moved by the music.
The plot is ostensibly based on King Sebastian I of Portugal (1554 -1578). However, as dramatic devices of this sort have done for centuries, it can be taken as a veiled commentary on the situation (already precarious at the time of the operetta’s premiere performance) of the then 22-year old liberal Austrian heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf (1858 -1889, son of emperor Franz Josef I and his wife Elisabeth, “Sisi” (actually, probably “Lisi”); died at Mayerling together with his underage mistress Mary Vetsera).
The text “Der Oesterreichische Adel und sein constitutioneller Beruf. Mahnruf an die aristokratische Jugend. Von einem Österreicher” (Austrian nobility and its constitutional calling. Exhortation to the aristocratic youth. By an Austrian), written by the crown prince in 1878 and published anonymously in Munich, had caused a scandal in Vienna. The crown prince, who represented revolutionary views in the eyes of the ultra-conservative imperial house, was politically isolated and encouraged to lead a frivolous life by the lord chamberlain appointed by the court after Rudolf reached the age of majority.
Probably due to censorship, which prohibited taking the House of Habsburg as a main topic, much less taking a critical view of it, these and other quite striking innuendoes are so hidden in the work that they only reveal themselves upon closer scrutiny. (As proven in the program book!)
A young king and the crown prince of the Habsburg Empire – both growing up without parental warmth and love, 300 years apart – became victims for the benefit of their people. Their deaths were ultimately connected to the end of their respective empires’ positions as world or major powers.”
The full house at the Landestheater experienced an outstanding performance, which (according to renowned Coburg music critic Rudolf Potyra in the local Neue Presse) left nothing to be desired – except maybe a full theatrical production. With this, he expressed the heartfelt sentiments of many of those present!
Ralph Braun spoke about the concert production of the work in his highly interesting lecture, “Die Musik als Schlüssel zu Strauss unbekannten Operetten und sich daraus ergebende Möglichkeiten für Deutung und Darstellung” (Music as the key to Strauss’ unknown operettas and the resulting opportunities for analysis and representation) in the assembly hall of the Gymnasium Casimirianum on June 27, 2006.
Now we are eagerly looking forward to April 27, 2007, in the Staatsoperette Dresden!