Die Kluge – Die Geschichte von dem König und der klugen Frau

Not a single trace of opera is permitted to adhere to › Die Kluge ‹.« (Heinz Tietjen)[1]

Around the middle of 1938, Orff began to work on a variety of text versions and compositional sketches for the initial scenes of a fairy tale work which would provide a contrast to ›Der Mond‹. The decisive inspiration for the dramatic structure of the work was provided in his search for a suitable riddle for the test to prove the astuteness of the heroine of the title. He came across Karl Simrock’s ›Deutsche Sprichwörter‹ (1846) [German proverbs], and the drastic and ribald language in this collection sparked off entire scenes in his imagination. Here Orff also discovered a correspondence to his musical concepts.[2]

 

(Stage photo, Tokyo 1958)
(Poster by Helmut Jürgens for the first performance Städtische Bühnen Frankfurt am Main 1943)
(Stage design by Helmut Jürgens for the first performance, Frankfurt am Main 1943)

 

While Carl Orff had discovered his musical style with Carmina Burana, it was in ›Die Kluge‹ that he discovered his dramatic style. Terse language is combined with a terse musical style to create a theatrical form of representation which does not illustrate the figures of the work, but sketches them as if with pen and ink.

This explains the great significance of the text for ›Die Kluge‹ which Orff created himself in a highly individual linguistic style which lends the composition its particular character.
All aspects focus on a taut and graphic dramatic effectiveness: direct speech, the terse syntactic sentence structure, the antithetic style of dialogue, a descriptive use of language and not least the doggerel verse with which Orff lends the text an artistic folk style.
Fairy tale, folk theatre and Bavarian »Kumedi« - these elements are all combined in Orff’s libretto to produce a simultaneously buoyant yet profoundly serious play on meaning.[3]

 

(Stage design for the first performance by Helmut Jürgens 1943)
(Carl Orff, 1939; Photo: Madeline Winkler-Betzendahl, German Theatre Museum Munich)
(Stage photo, Tokyo 1958)

 

The first performance was a resounding success. Following the end of the war, the composition became Orff’s most popular stage work after Carmina Burana, and still continues to find its place in the repertoires of theatres both large and small throughout the world, translated into over twenty languages.[2]

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[1] Heinz Tietjen from CO-Dok V,208; [2] Werner Thomas in: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters, Vol. 4, Munich 1991, p.581 ff.; [3] Franz Willnauer in: CO-Dok V,119
Images : 1-5 OZM; 6 Madeline Winkler-Betzendahl, German Theatre Museum Munich
Audio: Wolfgang Sawallisch - EMI 653763712-2

Die Kluge - »Strolchszene«
Extract from a production by the Munich Marionette Theatre

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AUDIO:
Die Kluge, Scene 9

First performance

Plot