The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief
“The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief,” a comic opera in three acts, with text by Genée
and Bohrmann-Riegen and music by Johann Strauss, was first produced in Vienna Oct. 2, 1880.
The scene is laid in Portugal in the Sixteenth Century. Among the characters are a king and
queen of the Mother Goose type, one of the prominent characteristics of the former being his
passion for truffles and other good things to eat. A flavor of verity is secured by the
introduction of the literary man, Cervantès, who has been banished from Spain and who is now
a captain in the Royal Guard. He is in love with Irene, first lady in waiting to the Queen,
and the two work together to further the interests of the young rulers. There is for a villain,
a bad Prime Minister, who is in league with the King of Spain in trying to keep the power in
his own hands. To this end, he tries to stir up discord between the King and Queen, who are
really too young to be very wise, for the King has seen but nineteen years and the Queen but
seventeen. The King is encouraged in various irregularities and showers attention on the
charming Irene, who is too true to the Queen and her loving Cervantes to accept them.
Cervantes is appointed Queen’s reader and her neglected heart conceives a sentiment for
him which is chiefly gratitude for his genuine friendship and sympathy. As she is an impulsive
young woman, she writes on her lace handkerchief, “A queen loves you,” and placing it in the
manuscript of Don Quixote, hands it to him. The manuscript is seized and read with avidity.
It is indeed most interesting matter, for two of the characters are drawn from life, Don Quixote
being the Portuguese Minister of War, and Sancho Panza the Minister of Instruction. Cervantes
is arrested for treason but the King and Irene effect his release by pretending that he is insane.
The two young monarchs now ascend the throne, announcing that the regency is at an end.
The Prime Minister, in fright at the apparent failure of his plans, plays his last card.
He gives the King the Queen’s lace handkerchief, with the compromising words written upon
it. Cervantes is arrested again and the Queen is banished to a convent. Cervantes escapes
from his guards, however, and joins a party of brigands who capture the Queen. He disguises
himself as the host and the Queen as the waiting-maid of an inn and, when the King comes that
way hunting, they serve him, and explain everything. Under the circumstances, they will have
to be forgiven for their ingenious explanation that the words on the handkerchief were only a
message sent by the Queen to the King through Cervantes’ friendly hand.
This romance with its sprightly music is one of the most popular of the Strauss operas.
The numbers include the Queen’s romanza, “It was a wondrous fair and starry night;” the
King’s truffle song; the duet of the Premier and the King in praise of the oysters ;
Cervantes’ number, “Once sat a youth so fair and pensive; ” the Premier’s song with chorus,
“When great professors;” the Queen’s “Bright as a ray from heavenly heights gleaming ; ”
Sancho’s song, in the third act, “In the night his zither holding;” the Queen’s
“Seventeen years had just passed o’er me,” and the final choruses.