The Tsar wants his Photograph Taken / The Clever Woman
Kurt Weill (1900–1950)
Carl Orff (1895–1982)
Der Zar lässt sich fotografieren / The Tsar wants his Photograph Taken
Opera buffa in one act
Libretto by Georg Kaiser
First performed February 18 1928, Neues Theater, Leipzig
Die Kluge / The Clever Woman
Libretto by the composer
First performed February 20 1943, Opera House, Frankfurt am Main!
Sung in German with German & English surtitles
There's a chamber music concert on June 4 to tie in with this new production.
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin and on video (see above)
The Tsar wants his photo taken in Angèle’s Paris Studio – right away. A wish conveyed by telephone. A gang of conspirators get wind of this and want to jump at the chance to assassinate him. The revolutionaries get into the studio, overpower the photographer Angèle and install a pistol in her camera. When the Tsar enters with his companion he meets »bogus Angèle« – one of the assassins, pretending to be the photographer. A serious flirt begins, which teeters between real passion and life or death, although it’s not really clear who’s really in control. But before either of them can take a shot, the conspiracy is unearthed. The assassins manage to get away, the Tsar insists on his portrait.
If only the farmer had listened to His Clever Daughter ... she told him not to give a golden mortar – unearthed while working the land – to the King. But, duty bound, he handed it over, earning his suspicions instead of a reward: certain that the farmer has kept the pestle, he has him thrown into the tower. The King wants to test the farmer’s daughter’s cleverness. He gives her three riddles. If she can solve them, he’ll let her go otherwise, the noose awaits. Child’s play for the clever girl. The King’s so impressed that he makes her his wife.
A furious argument ensues between a man with a donkey and a man with a mule over a foal. They go before the King, to judge the case. The muleteer bribes anyone who might help him win – including three rogues dressed as judges, who comment gleefully on the King’s unfair ruling against the donkey owner, who reflects in despair on his situation. The clever girl appears, not revealing that she is, in fact, the Queen. She speaks to him kindly and says she might be able to turn the tide. When the clever girl admonishes the King about his unfair ruling he chucks her out, giving her a trunk in which she can take »whatever her heart treasures most« with her … Which is him, when he wakes up inside it after a sleeping potion his clever wife administered to him.
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 wants 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«.