JOHANN BAPTIST STRAUSS, a. k. a. Johann Strauss II or Johann Strauss Jr., remained the most illustrious member of the large composer family and one of the emblematic figures of musical Vienna. He was celebrated as the King of Waltz and contrived to transform the dancing genres thriving in the nineteenth century into genuine masterpieces of orchestral music and his compositions On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Kaiser-Walzer, Tales from the Vienna Woods, Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka and many others are being performed even today all over the world. His heritage encompassing over 500 opuses – waltzes, mazurkas, polkas, quadrilles, marches – comprises fifteen completed operettas, almost all of them produced at the Theater an der Wien. Among such celebrated titles as The Bat, The Gypsy Baron, A Night in Venice, is also the little-known Blindekuh, after the eponymous comedy of the German actor, playwright and director Rudolf Kneisel (Blindekuh – literary translated as „blind cow”, is the children’s game known as ‘blind man’s bluff’, popular across Europe for centuries, present in Rabelais’ novel pentalogy „Gargantua and Pantagruel”, in the pictures of Bruegel, Fragonard and others). The first performance of the three-act operetta was scheduled for the end of 1876, but was postponed because Strauss was under great strain to complete a French version of his operetta The Bat for a forthcoming performance in Paris in the autumn of 1877, and due to the sudden death of the composer’s first wife, Yetti Treffz. The premiere at the Theater an der Wien two years later, on 18 December 1878, was not received very well and was discontinued after sixteen performances. But even before the theatrical release, the Blindekuh Overture was performed with success under the direction of the author at a charity concert and has established itself in the repertoire of many orchestras worldwide.
The opera opens in the country estate of Scholle, a rich landowner. All the guests are arriving for a grand feast organised by Scholle himself. It is a lovely summer afternoon and the scene is delightful – everyone in their best attire, the servants run to the carriages to help the guests out and escort them and introduce them to Scholle. Everyone of any importance in the constituency is there: noblemen, landowners, officials with their families, but also musicians and poets. One of the servants, Johann, sneaks from table to table sampling the served food: pheasants, grouse, deer and, of course, desserts and champagne! But he is also looking – very attentively – at the lovely ladies amongst the guests. Among them is a beautiful blonde young lady called Waldine, who has come to the feast with her governess Elvira. The two are rambling around the gardens admiring the flowers and plants – a good opportunity for Elvira to give Waldine a lesson in botanics! But despite all her best efforts, Elvira cannot make Waldine concentrate enough on the scientific side of the lovely nature that surrounds them: Waldine sees more into the flowers than what van be read in books – she sees passion, grace and love. And of course, while Waldine is lost in her admiration for all things beautiful, a daring young man, Hellmuth (a distant cousin of Waldine, whom she has never met), comes to the scene and kneels in front of her and tells her everything he knows about America, a land he admires and loves, and where he would like to take her one day. This is where the confusion starts! Another guest, Kragel, Secretary at the Court, notices the scene and mistakes Hellmuth for one Herr Meyer, a well-known womaniser! Elvira gets really alarmed and upset, and all the other guests and the hosts themselves, Scholle and his wife Arabella, join in the confusion and try to learn who Hellmuth really is. Johann tries to convince Scholle to challenge Hellmuth to a duel. Confusion continues. The duel is suspended following a very lively heated discussion when all (apart from Hellmuth) agree that he really is Herr Meyer!
Later in the day: Johann is wandering in the garden, clearing the buffet tables, and taking in all the beauty that surrounds him when suddenly Waldine, together with many lady friends, comes to the garden. She is full of excitement as she has just received the news that her cousin has just arrived from America. Hellmuth is following them – he still is trying to talk to Waldine, but she distracts him by introducing him to her friends, Wilhelmine, Euphrosine, etc. Hellmuth is disheartened as he has not managed to tell her who he really is – her cousin from America – and, fed up, leaves. On his way he meets Adolf, who is pretending to be Hellmuth himself in order to conquer Waldine’s heart. The real Hellmuth forces him to reveal his true identity. He is Herr Adolf Meyer! Further complication arrives in the form Betsy, a young American woman, who has also recently arrived from over the Atlantic, and is apparently here on her honeymoon.
Suddenly everyone is in the garden once again, and it is agreed that a game of Blind Man’s Bluff (Blindekuh) should be played to lighten the tense spirit. It is during the game we find out who is who. Hellmuth and Betsy are married, and were visiting from America to share the happiness of their honeymoon with Waldine, Hellmuth’s cousin. Adolf is actually Herr Meyer, and he apparently is very fond of Waldine! The opera ends with Scholle asking Hellmuth and Adolf why they created so much confusion from the beginning! What they answer is that practical jokes are the American way!