[Met Performance] CID:4300
United States Premiere
Die Königin von Saba {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/2/1885.
 (United States Premiere)
(Debuts: Marie Krämer-Wiedl, Henry E. Hoyt

Metropolitan Opera House
December 2, 1885
United States Premiere


Queen of Sheba..........Marie Krämer-Wiedl [Debut]
Assad...................Albert Stritt
Sulamith................Lilli Lehmann
King Solomon............Adolf Robinson
Astaroth................Marianne Brandt
High Priest.............Emil Fischer
Baal-Hanan..............Alexander Alexy
Dance...................Marie Bonfanti
Dance...................Bettina De Sortis

Conductor...............Anton Seidl

Director................Mr. Van Hell
Set Designer............Henry E. Hoyt [Debut]
Costume Designer........Henry Dazian
Lighting Designer.......James Jr. Stuart

Die Königin von Saba received twenty-five performances this season.

Alternate title: The Queen of Sheba; Die Koenigin von Saba .

Review of Henry E. Krehbiel in the Herald

In Italy, every year, scores of operas are composed and performed which wither and fade in light of the stage lamps so quickly that scarcely their titles or the names of their composers become known to diligent observers of musical events. In Germany, young musicians and old, their minds crammed with theoretical knowledge and their souls filled with lofty ideals, pursue the will-o'-the-wisp of operatic production, only to learn at the end of their labors that their scores are condemned to perpetual imprisonment in their writing desks. A few are fortunate enough to get a hearing, and of these a fraction garner the good opinions of serious-minded and experienced reviewers for the press, who perceive in the compositions the result of careful study of masterpieces, and of an earnest desire coupled with indications of talents which might shine in some other department of musical creation. About once in a decade, a work appears which conquers for itself the right to be heard at all the leading lyric establishments of the country, and is, by virtue of this fact, set down as an artistic triumph. Unquestionably, the standard of judgment set in Germany is a very high one; it could scarcely be otherwise, so long as the country contained a genius of such transcendent powers in this very department as Wagner. It had little to do with the matter that Wagner's artistic theories had not been universally accepted; his most implacable antagonists did not venture to deny him the possession of peerless creative force compared with all contemporary composers. Dr. Hanslick, of Vienna, the leader of the critics opposed to Wagnerism, did not hesitate, in reviewing "Parsifal," to say that, for a man of Wagner's age and Wagner's system, his creative power still appeared amazing, and that he who was able to create musical pieces of the fascinating, melodious charm of the garden scene, and of the energy of the concluding scene in "Parsifal," was yet in command of a power for which the youngest of Germany's composers might envy him; and Hanslick, it must be remembered, has been the enthusiastic champion of young composers like Dvorak and others, of whom he hoped that they might stay the rising tide of Wagner's popularity with the masses.

These facts are significant when viewed in connection with the career of Goldmark's "Königin von Saba," which, a little more than ten years after its creation, received its first representation in America at the Metropolitan Opera House on this occasion. We have in mind half a dozen operas, written by admired and able German musicians which, within this time, have received a respectable amount of attention at the hands of the German public. One has even eclipsed this work of Goldmark's in the number of performances received (I refer to Nessler's "Trompeter von Säkkingen"), but no new German work has been so generally received as a decided acquisition to the operatic list as "The Queen of Sheba." The reason for this one need not go far to seek. In "The Queen of Sheba" are combined more of the elements which go to make up a successful opera than in any new work that has been seen since Verdi enriched the stage with "Aida," unless it be "Carmen," which, for many reasons, must be given a unique position among latter-day creations.

The most obvious reason why "The Queen of Sheba" should be seen with pleasure by a public wearied with the operas of the hurdy-gurdy Italian list, lies in its book. Thoughtfully considered, this book is not one of great worth, but in its handling of the things which give pleasure to the superficial observer, it is certainly admirable. In the first place, it presents a dramatic story which is rational, which strongly enlists the interest, if not the sympathies, of the observers, which is comparatively new to the stage, and which abounds with imposing spectacles, that are not only intrinsically brilliant and fascinating, but that occur as necessary adjuncts to the story. Looked at from its ethical side, and considered with reference to the sources whence its elements sprung, it must fall under condemnation; but this will more plainly appear after its incidents have been rehearsed. The title of the opera would indicate that the Bible story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon had been drawn on for the plot. This is true in a slight degree. The Queen of Sheba comes to Solomon in the opera, and that is the end of the draft on the Scriptural story, so far as she is concerned. Sulamith, who figures in the play, owes her name but not her character nor any of her experiences to the Canticles whence the name is borrowed. The Song of Songs contributes a few lines to the poetry of the book, and a ritualistic service celebrated in the temple at Jerusalem, finds its original in the opening verses of the lxviith and cxviith Psalms; but with this we have mentioned all that the opera owes to the Bible. It is not a biblical opera even in the sense that Mehul's "Joseph" or Rubinstein's "Maccabees" and "Sulamith" are biblical. Solomon's magnificent reign and marvelous wisdom, which contributes certain factors to the sum of the production, belong to profane as well as to sacred history, and it will be found most agreeable to deeply-rooted impressions, to think of some other than the scriptural Solomon as the prototype for the Solomon of Mosenthal and Goldmark, for, in truth, they make of him but a sorry sentimentalist at best. The local color of the opera has been borrowed from the old story; the dramatic motive comes plainly from Wagner's "Tannhäuser," as will be evident on a moment's reflection.

Assad, a favored courtier, is sent by Solomon to extend greetings and a welcome to the Queen of Sheba, who is on her way with gifts to visit the king, whose fame for wealth and wisdom has reached her ears in far Arabia. Assad is the type (a milk and-watery one, it must be confessed,) of manhood, struggling between the earthly and the heavenly, between a gross, sensual passion, and pure, exalting love. He is betrothed to Sulamith, the daughter of the High-Priest, who awaits his return within Solomon's palace, and leads her companions in songs of gladness. Assad meets the Queen at Gath, performs his mission and sets out to return, but, exhausted by the heat of the day, enters the forest on Mt. Lebanon and throws himself upon a bank of moss to rest. There the sound of splashing waters arrests his ear. He seeks the cause of the grateful noise and comes upon a transportingly beautiful woman bathing. The nymph, finding herself observed, does not cause the death of her admirer, like Diana, but discloses herself as a veritable Wagnerian Venus. She clasps him in her arms and he falls at her feet, when, frightened by a rustling reed, the beauty escapes. Assad returns to Jerusalem, and, conscience-stricken, seeks to avoid his pure bride. Solomon hears his story and sets the morrow as his wedding day with Sulamith. The Queen arrives, and when she raises her veil to give Solomon the first glimpse that mortal man has had of her features, Assad recognizes the Venus of his adventure on Lebanon. Bewildered, he addresses her and is haughtily repulsed. But the Queen, no less than Assad, has been smitten. She finds him wandering at night in the garden, whither she had gone to brood over her love and the threatened loss of its object on the morrow, and lures him again into her arms. Before the altar in the temple, just as Assad is about to pronounce the words which are to bind him to Sulamith, she confronts him again, on the specious pretext that she brings gifts for the bride. Assad again addresses her. Again he is denied, but now delirium has seized his brain and he loudly proclaims the Queen as the goddess of his prayers. The people are panic-stricken at the sacrilege and rush from the temple; the priests cry anathema; Sulamith bemoans her fate; Solomon speaks words of comfort; the High-Priest intercedes with Heaven, and the soldiery, led by Baal Hanan, the overseer of the palace, enter to lead the profaner to death. Solomon claims the right to decide his fate. Now the Queen is fearful that she will lose her prey and begs his life as a boon of Solomon, but the king declines to grant her request; Assad must work out his salvation by overcoming temptation. Sulamith approaches amid the wailing of her companions. She is about to enter a retreat on the edge of the Syrian desert, but she, too, prays for the life of Assad. Solomon, in a prophetic ecstacy, foretells Assad's deliverance from sin and the meeting of the lovers under a palm tree in the desert. Assad is not killed, but banished to the desert; there a simoon sweeps down upon him ; he falls at the foot of a lonely palm to die, after calling on Sulamith with his last breath. She comes with the wailing maidens, finds a fulfillment of Solomon's prophecy, and Assad dies in her arms. "Thy beloved is thine in love's eternal realm" sing the maidens, while a mirage shows the wicked queen, with her caravan of camels and elephants, returning to her home.

The parallel between this story and the immeasurably more poetical and beautiful one of "Tannhäuser" is apparent at once. Sulamith is Elizabeth, the Queen is Venus, Assad is Tannhäuser, and Solomon is Wolfram. The ethical force of the drama - it has a little, though a very little - is weakened by the excision from the last act of a scene in which the Queen, attempts to persuade Assad to go with her to Arabia. Now Assad rises superior to his grosser nature and drives the temptress away, thus performing the saving act demanded by Solomon. The book-writer treated this material not with great poetical beauty - the poetry is on a level with the trashiest of its kind - but with most cunning appreciation of the many opportunities which it offers for dramatic effect. The opera opens with a gorgeous picture of the interior of Solomon's palace, decked in honor of the coming guest. There is an air of excited and joyous expectancy over everything; Sulamith's entrance introduces at once the element of female beauty to brighten the brilliancy of the picture, and her bridal song, in which the refrain is an excerpt from the Canticles " Thy beloved is thine who feeds among the roses," - enables the composer to indulge his strong taste for and a most fecund gift of Oriental melody. The action then hurries rapidly to a thrilling climax. One glittering pageant treads upon the heels of another, each more gorgeous and resplendent than the last, until the stage, set to represent a fantastic hall with a bewildering vista of carved columns, golden lions and rich draperies, is filled with such a kaleidoscopic mass of colors and groupings as only an Oriental mind could conceive. Finally all the preceding strokes are eclipsed by the entrance of the Queen. But no time is lost; the spectacle does not make the action halt for a moment. The Queen makes her gifts and uncovers her face and at once we are in the midst of the tragical element, and the action begins to hasten to its legitimate and mournful end. In all this ingenious blending of play and spectacle, one rare opportunity after the other is presented for the composer. Sulamith's epithalamium, Assad's recital, the choral greeting to the Queen, the fateful recognition -all are made for music of the most inspiring, passionate, and swelling kind. So in the second act the Queen's monologue, the duet with Assad, and, more striking than all, the unaccompanied bit of singing, with which Astaroth lures Assad into the presence of the Queen, who is hiding in the shadow of broad-leaved palms behind a running fountain-a melodic phrase saturated with the mystical color of the East-these are gifts of the rarest kind to composer and public. That relief from their stress of passion is necessary is not forgotten, and it is found in the solemn ceremonial in the temple which takes place amid surroundings that call into active operation one's childhood fancies, touching the appearance of the temple on Mount Moriah, and the pompous celebrations of which it was the theatre. To do justice to all these things, the management of the Metropolitan Opera House strained every nerve, and succeeded so well that the opera, aside from every other consideration, will live in the theatrical annals of this city as one of the most brilliant spectacles yet produced here.

Herr Goldmark's music is highly spiced. He is plainly an eclectic, whose first aim was to give the drama an investiture which should be in keeping with its character, externally and internally. At times, his music rushes along like a lava-stream of passion; every bar pulsates with eager, excited, and exciting life. He revels in instrumental color; the language of his orchestra is as glowing as the poetry attributed to the King whom his operatic story celebrates. Many other composers before him have made use of Oriental cadences and rhythms, but to none have they seemed to come so like native language as to Gold-mark. It is romantic music, against which the strongest objection that can be urged is, that it is so unvaryingly stimulated that it wearies and makes the listener long for a fresher and healthier musical atmosphere. It is tyrannous in its demands upon the voices, but it inspires its singers with the ability to render it.

From the review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times

It was after 12 o'clock when the curtain fell on the final scene, but the vast audience remained to the end, and if there was any sense of weariness expressed...the feeling was rather the outcome of a surfeit of sensuous music and splendid stage costume than of mediocrity or dullness, either on the part of the composer, his interpreters, or his scenic illustrators....While the directors, singers, and scenic artists of the Metropolitan all merit recognition...mention should be made of Mr. Edmund C. Stanton's share-the lion's share...in the matter. If last night's..."Queen of Sheba" was worthy at all points of the oldest opera house in Europe, this result was largely due to the personal and untiring labors of the young and able director....

The music...may be described in a general way as eclectic...the vocal writing inclines rather toward the Italian than toward the German school...it reminds one occasionally of "Aida,"....On the other hand there are few indications of Wagner's influences...[Goldmark] has resisted the temptation of following in Wagner's footsteps, when inspiration fails him, by depending upon ugliness as an offset to occasional felicity of thought, and if there is little that stamps itself upon the memory by novelty or loveliness, there are few or no passages of the score in which uncommon intervals, wild progressions, or painful dissonances fret the ear. Modern theories and practice are especially and delightfully shown in the orchestration. Goldmark...has adopted, of course, the latter-day method of dividing his orchestra into an array of smaller bands, and his writing teems with the shimmering effects produced by muted violins and violin playing in the highest positions, with rough and vigorous progressions standing out against a delicate background of tone, and with strange but not unpleasing chromatic phrases that soar upward and die away, all unfinished in the uppermost regions of sound...."The Queen of Sheba,"... is characterized, as a whole, by depth, clearness, richness, and brilliancy. It is marked, too, by a plentitude of local color. What is accepted as Oriental modes and rhythms abound in it....

...Portions of [Goldmark's] most important contribution to the lyric repertoire are intended to be distinctly effective, and may be taken up separately....In the first act are noticeably a weird and pretty chorus... ("Der Freund ist dein."'); Sulamith's verses which are somewhat vague as to form, but poetical...and daintily accompanied; an exquisitely written narrative of Assad's meeting with his unknown charmer, marked by unusual variety of accent, ending in a finely dramatic crescendo, and exquisitely accompanied by the orchestra; some broad cantabile passages for the baritone; a showy march,... and a beautifully concerted piece after Assad's recognition of the Queen....In the second act are to be cited the Queen of Sheba's first air...[and] an extremely pretty arioso for tenor and soprano, the latter piece being more German than Italian as to themes and handling. In the "temple scene," ...a powerful concerted piece, sung after Assad has again succumbed...some pretty measures for the soprano, and the ingenious use of Hebrew melodies and of the strange blast of the ram's horn used in the synagogue invite consideration....the vivacious ballet music in the third act and the concerted piece with which the act closes, and Assad's lament...in the fourth, should not be omitted from the enumeration of effective parts of the score....

...the representation moved with unbroken smoothness [and] the beautifully finished execution and pure and vibrant voice of Fräulein Lehmann (Sulamith), and the sonorous tones and broad and flowing delivery of Herr Robinson (King Solomon) won the largest measure of approbation....The chorus was in excellent shape, and the orchestra's task was faultlessly executed.... No opera has ever been placed upon the stage with anything approaching the gorgeousness and historical accuracy of last night's production; the scenes, the costumes, and the pageants-the latter involving a personnel aggregating 600 persons-offer to the eye a succession of pictures that for dazzling color, correctness, and life-like realism have had no equals within the recollection of the present generation of theatregoers.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).