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Past Images of the Month - November 2016

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Die Königin von Saba, Op.27. Hamburg, [1877].  The score was first published two years after the opera's premiere.

Die Königin von Saba, Op.27. Hamburg, [1877]. The score was first published two years after the opera's premiere.

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Goldmark's The Queen of Sheba


Last year the centenary of the death of the Hungarian composer Carl Goldmark was commemorated on this site (Past Images of the Month, March 2015).  The Museum has recently acquired a set of Liebig cards showing Goldmark's first and most successful opera Die Königin von Saba (Vienna, 10 March 1875) and we show these here as a footnote to the previous display.

Die Königin von Saba.  Opera in 4 acts to a text by H. G. von Mosenthal.  The work was composed between 1866 and 1872 but not staged until 1875.  In his autobiography Goldmark recounts the numerous setbacks which delayed its first performance.  After a long period of neglect a new production of the opera was mounted in Budapest in the autumn of 2015.

The setting is Jerusalem in the 10th century BC (and the plot totally imaginary!)
Act I: A hall in Solomon’s palace
Preparations are being made for the reception of the Queen of Sheba to the court of King Solomon.  Sulamith (soprano), the daughter of the High Priest, is awaiting the return of her fiancé, Assad (tenor), who has been sent by the King to meet the Queen.  The young couple are due to marry the next day.  On returning Assad avoids his betrothed and confesses to Solomon that he has yet to glimpse the (habitually-veiled) Queen but has fallen in love with a mysterious woman he met in the forests of Lebanon.  The Queen of Sheba (mezzo-soprano) now arrives on a palinquin surrounded by her magnificent entourage. As she unveils to the King, Assad recognises her to be his unknown woman.  The Queen, needless to say, fails to acknowledge him.  After she leaves, Solomon advises Assad to suppress his infatuation and continue with his marriage to Sulamith.
Act II
Scene 1: The Palace Garden at night
The Queen of Sheba has absented herself from the reception in the palace and is thinking of Assad and his forthcoming marriage.  She vows to prevent this from taking place.  Her servant Astaroth (soprano) is aware that Assad is also in the garden and is instructed to fetch him.  A passionate and sometimes tormented duet eventually leads to them embracing, but a call to prayer from the Guardian of the Temple (bass) causes the Queen to depart.  At sunrise the Captain of the Guard and his soldiers find a dazed and confused Assad.
Scene 2: The Temple
Assad and Sulamith are about to be married in front of the Ark of the Covenant.  As the High Priest holds out a wedding ring the Queen suddenly appears, claiming to have brought a wedding gift.  Assad impulsively rushes up to her, throwing the ring to the ground, but is repulsed as before.  His blasphemous assertion that the Queen is his Goddess causes an uproar which ends the ceremony and leads to his arrest.
Act III: The court of King Solomon
Celebrations in honour of the Queen of Sheba continue with a lavish entertainment.  The Queen takes the opportunity to plead with Solomon for Assad to be shown mercy.  The King immediately recognises her deceit and banishes her from the Court.
Her approach is followed by that of Sulamith.  She has decided to give her life to God but in saying farewell wishes to beg pardon for Assad.  The King spares Assad's life but sends him into exile in a distant desert.  He advises Sulamith to follow and suggests that they should there find peace.
Act IV: The vicinity of Sulamith's desert retreat
Assad arrives at a withered palm tree.  To his astonishment the Queen has followed him but this time fails in her desperate attempts to beguile him.  Assad resists temptation and after she leaves prays to God for the soul of Sulamith.  A violent sandstorm eclipses a mysterious illusion of the Queen's departing train and Sulamith arrives from her nearby convent to cradle the dying Assad and swear eternal fidelity.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)


More than 1,800 sets of Liebig advertising trade cards were issued between 1872 and 1973.  The cards covered a huge variety of subjects including history, peoples of the world, literature, art, sport and nature but at least 76 sets are based on operas, composers or opera houses.  The attractive cards, which soon became very collectable, were published in a number of languages, mostly German, Italian and French but also some in Bohemian, Danish, Dutch, Flemish, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. Only a few were printed in English. All the cards had a picture on the front and text regarding the product or recipes on the back, overprinted with the signature of the founder Baron von Liebig.  From the early 1900's the cards depicting  six scenes from an individual opera also had a short summary of the scene on the reverse.

The Liebig company produced a successful meat extract which, after several changes of brand name, eventually evolved into solid form as Oxo cubes.  In 1847 Justus von Liebig, (1803-1873) the eminent German chemist at the Royal Pharmacy in Munich published a treatise Extractum Carnis.  He believed that his beef extract could prove to be a nourishing food for the populace in general and the poor in particular.  Finding that it was expensive to produce in Europe, Liebig later went into partnership with George Christian Giebert.  Cattle were being bred in South America specifically for their hides and the carcasses being discarded.  Giebert realised that the meat from these cattle could be utilised to produce large amounts of Liebig's extract more economically and established a factory at Fray Bentos in Uruguay.  About 100 kilometres upstream, there was a second factory at Colón, Argentina, also on the Uruguay River, on the opposite bank.  The product was then transported in bulk to Liebig's company in Europe.  In December 1865 the Liebig Extract of Meat Company Ltd (Lemco) had been set up in London to raise money for the venture.

In 1872 the company began issuing sets of colourful trade cards printed in the early years by chromolithography.  They were given away as complete sets in exchange for coupons. The extract was sold in jars which are illustrated on the cards. Most sets consisted of six cards but a few are sets of 12 or more.  The first opera cards were issued in 1886.  Besides the sets of six scenes from one opera, cards were produced showing six operas by one composer, six composers each with one of their works, two alphabets of male and female operatic characters, opera houses and even caricatures.   The images reflected the current operatic repertoire in France, Germany and Italy though some of the works, like that shown above, are rarely performed today. The cards measure approximately 7 x 11 centimetres.