Saturday, April 13, 2013

Budweiser Goes to the Opera

What is going on here?   We have a picture of three bare breasted women frolicking around a mountain peak being spied on by a dwarf with a long beard.  The headline says “Dusk of the Gods,  Act III, Scene 1.”   At mountaintop we spy a bottle of beer. Below the image is a tag line that tells us,  “Budweiser Beer is the beauteous star of Beers.”

The image only makes sense when we consider Adolphus Busch Sr., the cofounder of the Anheuser Busch Brewing Company.   Busch had been born in 1839 in Kastel, Mainze, Grand Duchy of Hesse,  Germany.   From a fairly wealthy family in the wine and brewery supply business,  Busch was well educated, attending for a time the Collegiate Institute of Belgium.   Upon arriving in America, he served an Union officer in the Civil War and with his father-in-law,  Eberhard Anheuser, founded a brewery in St. Louis.  In 1891 he purchased the Budweiser name and the firm met rapid success.

Shown here is a photo of Adolphus with a picture of the brewery that appeared in Leslie’s Magazine in 1910.  The publication called the complex the “one of the most extensive business plants in the world.”   Like other beer barons, however,  Busch was not content with just counting his money.  As a cultured German,  he need to demonstrate his love of opera,  particularly German opera,  while never forgetting to serve the merchandising needs of his brews.   Thus was born the series of trade cards seen here. 

Richard Wagner was a particular favorite of Busch and his German-American clientele.  Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung”  is a cycle of four epic operas with themes based on Norse sagas,  written over  26 years, from 1848 to 1874.  The card above is from the fourth opera,  in German, “Gotterdammerung.”  In English “Twilight of the Gods.”  The next image is from the second in the Ring Cycle that featured Siegfried, a brave warrior.  He has in hand the same figure shown the first picture.  This was a dwarf named Mime who raised Siegfried but unaccountably later wanted to kill him.  Possibly because Mime did not like his beard pulled.

The following card pictured a scene from “Die Walkure” (The Valkyrie), an opera that featured Siegmund (Siegfried’s father) and his love,  Brunhilde.  She was a Valkyrie, one of a gaggle of goddesses sired by Wotan, the big cheese of Norse gods.  It is not clear what the three individuals illustrated were doing.  The warrior Siegmund apparently was shown  astride a horse while Brunhilde served up a brew to someone he might just have clobbered. 

Not all Adolphus cards, however, featured scenes from Wagner.  The next one celebrated a character from a trilogy of plays by German dramatist Friedrich Schiller called “Wallenstein,” after the principal character, a military leader.  In the play, a Capuchin monk came to Wallenstein’s military camp and excoriated his soldiers for their misbehavior.  In this treatment, by contrast, the friar apparently had lost his mind over the thought of a Budweiser beer.  The next card also is from a German drama, this one by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  It depicted a scene from his famous “Faust.”  In the original text Mephisto (The Devil) appeared among a group of revelers drinking in a beer cellar in Leipzig, Germany.  Among them was Faust’ s buddy, Altmayer.  Altmayer has asked if Mephisto is from St. Louis and Satan in a complete nonsequitur has replied that he wanted a “Tony Faust Beer.”

Tony Faust Beer?   We may ask: What the devil is going on?   Once again the answer lay with Adolphus Busch. A close friend of the Beer Baron was Tony Faust, a man who owned an Oyster House and Restaurant in St. Louis, shown here.  A contemporary account said of this watering hole:  “Few people in the West have not heard of Tony Faust’s resort, and fewer still of those who come to St. Louis that do not visit his establishment.  This noted place is located at the corner of Fifth and Elm streets, immediately in the rear of the Southern Hotel ruin, made conspicuous by an immense and ornamental gas lamp, which, when lighted, reflect all the primary colors blended beautifully.”

Busch is said to have had lunch at Faust’s restaurant every day.   Interestingly, he washed it down with wine,  often referring to his own beer as “that slop.”   Busch’s daughter Anna married Faust’s son in a lavish wedding in 1897.  Adolphus showed his respect and admiration for the restauranteur by naming a brand of beer after him and calling it “King.”   Moreover he issued a series of opera trade cards bearing the Foust name and the Budweiser logo.   The first shown here drew on “Tannhauser,”  an Wagner opera, this one based on German legends.  In this scene, our hero, Tannhauser is engaging in a bacchanalia with a lot of stripped down German cuties because, the script said, he loved Venus.  Here, however, Mr. T seemed to be dismissing carnal pleasures in favor of a beer.

The following trade card recreated a scene from an opera from a Greek legend known in English as “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck.   It depicted another bacchanalia with a bare-bosomed Eurydice drinking beer and intoning “Evohe,” the well-known Greek cry of orgiastic frenzy.   Despite her vocal excitement and feeling in her heart the “sweet delirium”  of Tony Faust beer,  Eurydice seemed reasonably well composed, although somewhat exposed.

Although all the previous images have had their origins in German opera and drama,  a final trade card celebrated a French opera, “Carmen.”  It was the creation of George Bizet and was an instant international hit.  The trade card celebrates a moment when the toreador, Escamillo, is surrounded by his supporters.   At at time when he should have been at his most sober in facing a raging bull, Escamillo professed that to drink “would be a pleasure”  and he preferred Tony Faust Beer.

Tony Faust beer eventually disappeared from the Anheuser-Busch line of brews leaving behind this line of colorfully lithographed (and highly imaginative) scenes from theatrical productions, mostly German operas.  One suspects that these trade cards were collected principally by men who could ogle the bare breasted babes, think about beer,  and still claim they were acquiring them because of their deep love for opera.

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