“The Queen of Sheba,” a grand opera in four acts, was first presented in Vienna, March 10, 1875. Its text is by Mosenthal, and its music by Karl Goldmark.
King Solomon. Baal-Hanan, steward of the palace. Assad, Solomon’s favorite. High Priest. Sulamith, the High Priest’s daughter. The Queen of Sheba. Astaroth, slave of the Queen of Sheba. Priests, Levites, singers, harpists, body-guards, women of the harem, dancers, people.
The libretto is founded on the Biblical mention of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon but it must be added that the Old Testament account has been much embellished by the librettist. When the opera opens, a marriage is about to be splendidly celebrated in Solomon’s palace in Jerusalem. It is that of Sulamith, the High Priest’s daughter, who is to be united to Assad, favorite courtier of the King. Assad had been sent to conduct to the court the Queen of Sheba, who now with her retinue waits at the city’s gate. Assad, however, is much dejected, for though he would be faithful, his thoughts constantly recur to a woman of transcendent beauty whom he had seen while escorting the Queen. This woman, who was bathing in a pool in the forest, was a glorious creature, who discovering his presence, had come out of the water like a nymph, to wind her snowy arms about his neck. In his distress, he seeks the counsel of the King whose wisdom is indisputable and Solomon bids him marry his affianced one at once and then to pray to Heaven for peace.
Meantime, the Queen of Sheba appears with her attendants. She enters veiled, and followed by a procession of slaves and lovers, with Astaroth, her chief slave, next to her. When she frees her face from its covering, and stands forth in all her beauty, Assad sees again the goddess of the pool. The Queen makes no sign of his presence but his agitation is only too apparent. Solomon, noting it, reminds him that the morrow is his wedding-day. The Queen overhears these words and Assad discovers that her indifference is assumed, for she flashes a look at him eloquent with passion and yearning.
At night Astaroth summons Assad to the fountain in the courtyard, where the Queen meets him and completes his captivation. In the morning his bridal morning the priests come to conduct him to the altar and the Queen follows in dazzling apparel, bringing a golden cup filled with pearls for a wedding present. Assad, as he stands by Sulamith’s side, while the voice of the High Priest is lifted to chant the nuptial ceremony, sees the Queen, and can no longer restrain himself. Casting away the marriage ring, he falls at her feet, crying aloud that she is his divinity. He is seized and condemned to death for profaning the temple. The honor of the Queen’s visit is now celebrated with a ballet and feast. Sulamith has pleaded for Assad’s life and now the Queen tries with all her arts to influence Solomon to release him but the King is unmoved. In his wisdom, however, he realizes the Queen’s baseness; his heart is softened to Assad and he lightens his sentence to exile in the desert. Thence the Queen follows him, but Assad only repulses her. Sulamith also seeks him in his desolation, forgiving and ready to die with him. A simoom sweeps over the desert and they perish in each other’s arms, while a mirage shows the Queen and her retinue journeying homeward.
” The Queen of Sheba,” which established Goldmark’s fame throughout the musical world, is particularly notable for the rich Oriental coloring of both its instrumental and vocal scores. The composer has made use of Hebrew melodies in the great Temple scenes and in many portions of the work has had recourse to intervals and progressions essentially Eastern. The result is a beauty in color and an unusualness in effect, which lend the opera distinctly original qualities and place its creator among the notable composers of the present time.
The chief numbers are the brilliant chorus with which the opera opens ; Sulamith’s bridal aria, ” My Assad Returns ; ” Assad’s recital of his seeing the nymph in the forest; the gorgeously colored music which accompanies the entrance of the Queen and her retinue; the Queen’s aria, “Let me from the festal splendor,” in which she voices her love for Assad and her jealous hatred of Sulamith; the remarkable song for Astaroth, one of the most strikingly Oriental and beautiful numbers in the entire score, with which she lures Assad to the garden ; the duet of Assad and the Queen; the music accompanying the great scene in the Temple ; the ballet music and the lament of Assad in the desert.