The Tsar has his Photograph Taken / The Wise Woman
Kurt Weill (1900–1950)
Carl Orff (1895–1982)
Der Zar lässt sich fotografieren / The Tsar has his Photograph Taken
Opera buffa in one act
Libretto by Georg Kaiser
First performed February 18 1928, Neues Theater, Leipzig
Die Kluge / The Wise Woman
Libretto by the composer
First performed February 20 1943, Opera House, Frankfurt am Main!
Sung in German with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin and available here on video shortly before opening night
A delight in toying with different forms of theatre, traditions in story-telling and conventions of music theatre was something Kurt Weill and Carl Orff had in common.
While one wrote a comic opera with his The Tsar has his Photograph Taken in 1928, the other created something amusing yet serious and meaningful with his Die Kluge / The Wise Woman in the 1940s, combining fairy tales, folk theatre and Bavarian humour.
Weill's turbulent one-act opera is about a Tsar who's about to be assassinated in a photographer's studio in Paris. A dangerous flirt begins between the aristocrat and one of the conspirators, who's passing herself off as a photographer called Angèle … Weill's Zeitoper (operas of life as we know it) combines popular music with innovations including a gramophone on which Tango Angèle, top of the charts back then, is played.
Carl Orff's piece is told in 12 scenes, with equal zest but in a very different style. He used the Grimms’ fairy tale of The Wise Farmer's Daughter, a story about a King and a clever girl which has be told in varying ways all over the world. The language he uses is radical and astutely primitive because he wanted make a powerful, vivid impression on stage. His palette of expression ranges from the spoken and rhythmical word to cantilena. The use of rhyming couplets evokes an artistic folkloric, which often turns into pastiche.
In Weill's »Tsar Opera« the story is commented on by a male chorus in top hats and tails, Orff's tale by three Shakespearean minstrel rogues – who the audience at the world premiere in Frankfurt in 1943 heard saying: »Tyranny carries a scepter a long way«.