Junge Szene

The Clever Gretchen

Martin Smolka

Children’s opera. For all from 8 years Libretto by Klaus Angermann after the fairytale »Queen Rolleriana the First« by Jan Werich

Premiere 22. December 2022

Performed in German

Grete, the fisherman’s daughter, is not just very bright but an expert at solving riddles. Together with her parents, she even finds a brilliant and rather unusual way of visiting the King, overcoming his rather tricky instructions for all potential guests: »Driven – not driven. At night – in bright sunshine. Swift – and slow. Blond curls – black hair. With a gift – without a gift«. Grete and the King fall in love. She is crowned Queen – at least for a while, for the King is a very proud monarch and trouble is inevitable. But Grete is pretty resilient, and in the end beats her sweetheart at his own game with wit and compassion. Martin Smolka’s (*1959) opera for children from 2006 is brimming with fun and riddles. It also features original and unusual sounds that will delight and surprise all audience members, young or old. This brainteasing bonanza has been staged by director Andrea Kramer, who specialises in children’s theatre, with four singers, one actor, 13 musicians and lots of fun.


What if, somewhere in the world, there existed a tiny little kingdom of tiny little people who loved nothing better than to play and solve puzzles all day long? Or make up stories like the one about clever Grete, for example, who has a knack for solving seemingly unsolvable yet wonderful riddles. That would be fantastic – and everyone could join in the puzzling!

And the story of Grete goes like this: The miller and the fisherman are quarrelling about who really owns the water. They take their disagreement to the King. But before passing judgement, he gives them three riddles to solve by the next day: Which one thing is most useful to humankind? What is more beautiful than anything else in the world? And: Who or what is humankind’s worst enemy? 

In desperation, the fisherman has a brilliant idea how to get out of the mess: He simply asks his clever daughter Grete. As expected, she comes up with some very imaginative solutions to the riddles, and when he comes to the King the next day, the monarch is very impressed by the fisherman’s answers and settles the dispute in his favour. 
However, the King suspects that the fisherman didn’t solve the riddles alone. After some hesitation, the fisherman confesses that his daughter helped him. The King is now eager to meet the girl, so he invites Grete to the castle. But: »Driven – not driven. At night – in bright sunshine. Swift – and slow. Blond curls – black hair. With a gift – without a gift«. That’s how she must come to him. 

Quick as a flash, the clever girl builds herself a scooter with which she can both drive and walk to the castle at one and the same time. Her mother and father help her with the other tasks. When Grete finally stands before the King, he immediately falls in love with her and the two marry. There is only one thing she must promise her husband: She must NEVER interfere in the affairs of state. Grete immediately gives him her word. And the riddle-solving continues. A horse dealer and an ox trader start arguing about a foal that has run away from its mother and started suckling from an ox. When the King decides in the ox trader’s favour, the frantic horse dealer secretly turns to the Queen. With a guilty conscience about breaking her promise not to interfere, she advises the dealer how to get his foal back. Her plan works. The King, however, immediately guesses who helped the horse dealer, disowns his wife for her interference and sends her back to live with her parents in the fishing hut. 

She is only allowed to take one thing from the castle, namely that which she most treasures. Clever as she is, Grete devises a cunning plan: She rolls her husband up in a carpet and takes him to the fishing hut. When the King wakes up there the next morning and Grete tells him that HE is the dearest thing in the whole castle to her, he happily returns home with his wife. Because she is so intelligent and so much better at solving riddles than he, the King crowns her »Queen Rolleriana, the First«. And so they lived happily ever after until the end of their riddle-filled days!

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There are currently no further performances scheduled this season.