Inboccallupo-orchestra BerlinConductor: Andreas Schüller
Scholarship holders of the Orchesterakademie der Berliner PhilharmonikerConductor: Franz-Josef Grümmer
Recording for the Salzburg Marionette Theatre
Premiere: Salzburg, June 2, 2001
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
Theseus, Duke of Athens, impatiently awaits his wedding to Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen.
A company of artisans meets to rehearse the play “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the forthcoming wedding of Duke Theseus. The roles are allocated, and the players arrange to meet at midnight in the forest, to rehearse undisturbed.
Puck, Fairy King Oberon’s favourite sprite, discusses with a fairy from Queen Titania’s retinue the quarrel between the royal couple over a little Indian prince. Titania refuses to hand the boy over to Oberon, who swears vengeance. Oberon sends Puck to fetch a magic flower whose juice, if dropped on to a sleeper’s eyelids, will cause that person to fall in love with the first living creature glimpsed on waking. He intends to use this to punish Titania.
Titania is sung to sleep by the fairies; Oberon squeezes the juice of the magic flower on to her eyelids.
The artisans are rehearsing in the wood. Puck, seeking mischief, gives the boastful weaver Bottom the head of an ass. Bottom inadvertently wakes the sleeping Titania, who promptly conceives a passion for him. She instructs the fairies to pamper him and to take him to her bower.
Titania, besotted with the ass, has surrendered the young prince to Oberon. While Titania is slumbering with Bottom in her arms, Oberon removes the spell, and on waking she is horrified by the monster she loved. As dawn breaks, the reconciled fairy couple disappears.
In the Duke’s palace, the three newly-wed couples look forward to the artisans’ performance: Pyramus and Thisbe are two lovers separated by a wall; they arrange to meet at night at Ninus’ tomb. There Thisbe flees from a lion, which tears up the veil she has dropped. Finding the veil, Pyramus thinks Thisbe is dead, and stabs himself. Thisbe returns to discover her beloved Pyramus dead, and also stabs herself.
Despite this high pathos, the wedding feast ends in general merriment. At midnight the fairies enter the palace and bless the sleeping couples.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
William Shakespeare: The Tempest, IV, i
In Shakespeare's day, midsummer night (the night from 23 to 24 June) was always associated with folk customs, dance, superstition and magic. Humankind was afflicted with "midsummer madness", which deluded the overheated brain into mistaking illusion for reality. True, as Theseus mentions in Act IV, when the couples awaken from their enchanted sleep, the Dream is set on May Day, so Shakespeare seems to have intended the title to express a specific feeling – the midsummer suspension of the boundary between appearance and reality. To this magical day, he adds the magical place, the forest, where the luxuriant natural world and its rulers suspend the natural order of human civilisation, and chaos reigns. Shakespeare takes the inner order of this chaos as the structure of his drama: four levels of action, four groups of characters – the worldly rulers Theseus and Hippolyta, the fairy rulers Oberon and Titania, the couples and the mechanicals – are sent into disarray in a wood, and entangled until they become powerless marionettes of their own feelings and desires, with Puck, who loves nothing more than to create confusion, as the puppeteer.
Shakespeare has taken the models for his protagonists apparently at random, from his immense fund of sources: here Oberon, King of the Fairies, from Old Norse mythology, a relative of Alberich and Erlkönig, meets Titania, whose roots lie in matriarchates of Ancient Greek mythology. The beautiful Helen(a), on whose account Troy went up in flames, has become an unloved picture of misery, fought over by Demetrius, a Christian martyr, and Lysander who together with his beloved Hermia are probably related to the famous ill-starred lovers Hero and Leander. The "rude mechanicals", with a similarly tragic "Romeo and Juliet" story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, hold a distorting mirror up to their somewhat more serious fellow-players. Likewise, the quarrel between Oberon and Titania reflects the defeat of Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen, by Theseus, a story Shakespeare borrowed from Plutarch.
This Theseus, initially representing civic order, ends by suspending the strict Athenian laws, helping love to victory over reason – which is the message of the play.
In his Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare – not only arguably the greatest dramatist but also a superlative master of form – also combines the most diverse styles of language and speech: the rulers speak in well-turned hexameters, occasionally rhymed; the lovers attempt the same, though sometimes stumbling over the rhythm (quite apart from the sentimental pathos of their protestations of love, which Shakespeare adapted from the inferior prose fiction of his time); the mechanicals speak in the vernacular, though their grammar is sadly wanting, and their tragedy is written in varying rhyme. In addition, the play is permeated with countless allusions, double meanings and associations – as for instance when Titania, a fragile fairy, falls in love with as ass – attributed in the Renaissance with enormous sexual powers – so that the distribution of forces is reversed. Shakespeare's audience – which for the Dream were from the court, since the play was probably written for the wedding of a noble – with guests of honour including the highly cultured Elizabeth I, would have known and recognised all these many layers of tesseræ and have interpreted them as intended. The Elizabethan dramatist could rely on the imagination of his audiences, since illusionistic stage-sets were unknown in the theatre of the time, emerging only as Shakespeare was writing his final works, including The Tempest. Thus his work also reflects the development of stage practice around the turn of the 16th to the 17th century.
Shakespearean audiences were accustomed to imagining settings as well as effects, such as enchantments, in the theatre, so at the beginning of a scene there was often someone who would describe the setting or draw attention to specific events. Thus when Oberon lists the flowers that grow where Titania sleeps ("I know a bank..."), the audience would really have felt transported into the wood; the attention drawn to Bottom's transformation into an ass, to his "sleek smooth head ... and large ears" indicates that the actor may not even have worn a disguise. In addition, the audience would have seen only men on the stage, female roles bring played by boys – which makes Flute's rendering of Thisbe somewhat bizarre, since the women in his audience, Hippolyta, Hermia and Helena, were also played by men representing "real" women.
Theatre audiences have changed greatly since the Renaissance. Illusionistic stage-sets soon appeared, along with spectacular effects and of course real, "divinely fair" women; all this sent allegory, multi-layering and stylisation – particularly productions of the Dream – increasingly into the background. The Shakespearean enchanted wood was of course a favourite setting of the Romantics, as Mendelssohn's wonderfully atmospheric incidental music illustrates, and Max Reinhardt, in his spectacular productions and his opulent screen adaptation, followed a kind of Romantic realism (with hundreds of real trees on the revolving stage) of which Shakespeare could certainly never even have dreamt. Only later – particularly striking in the 1970 Peter Brook production – came a return to a far simpler form of representation, which brings out the play's infinite number of facets more strongly than a concretised fairy-tale rendering. So what about the marionettes and the Dream? Doesn't everyone who is going to stage the play dream of having Puck fly – and then, so that he can just imagine it, is left with the actor standing on the ground? But what if he can work with beings whose element is just as much air as earth? What if he can put into practice here exactly what he has imagined, sitting in his studio dreaming up ideas for this marvellous play? Does he not then have to put aside all stylistic reservations and give in to the curious fascination of the marionettes – especially the Salzburg Marionettes – because these wooden characters who (according to Cocteau) do indeed have a soul, manage in some strange way to suspend any pomposity or over-seriousness? In full awareness, we succumbed to this temptation in order, once and for all – as in that legendary midsummer night – to realise a dream; and so, with the help of Mendelssohn, a romantic Midsummer Night's Dream was born, in a version with which we believe the little marionettes can best serve the great Shakespeare.
If we shadows have offended,Think but this, and all is mended,That you have but slumber’d hereWhile these visions did appear.And this weak and idle theme,No more yielding but a dream,Gentles, do not reprehend:If you pardon, we will mend.And, as I am honest Puck,If we have unearned luckNow to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,We will make amends ere long;Else the Puck a liar call.So, goodnight unto you all.Give me your hands, if we be friends,And Robin shall restore amends.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, V, 1
In 1913 the sculptor Anton Aicher founded the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, opening with a performance of Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne. His performances were such a success that in the autumn of that very first year he went on tour. The repertoire was expanded to include children's fairy-tales, with the "Kasperl" (perhaps equivalent to Mr. Punch) as the main figure.
In 1926, Hermann Aicher received the Marionette Theatre from his father Anton as a wedding present, and used his technical knowledge to create a real miniature stage. In collaboration with the Mozarteum Academy, he rehearsed increasingly ambitious operas, and soon the repertoire included Mozart's smaller operas, such as Apollo et Hyacinthus or Der Schauspieldirektor [The Impresario].
During the period 1927–34, the theatre gave guest performances in Hamburg, Vienna and Holland, and visited Istanbul, Sofia and Athens. Moscow and Leningrad followed in 1936, in venues seating 2,500 – which necessitated new, larger marionettes. The special attraction was the marionette of the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova, dancing the "dying swan".
From 1940-44 the Salzburg marionettes were sent to the front. Hermann Aicher was summoned to military service in 1944, and the Theatre was closed. After the end of the war, the marionettes immediately resumed their activities, first of all for the occupying troops. In 1947, they gave the first post-war German-language guest performance in the famous Paris Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. There followed a busy period with tours, guest performances, and new productions including Mozart's five major operas.
In 1971 the present theatre, adapted specifically to the requirements of the marionettes, was opened with Rossini's Barber of Seville.
Hermann Aicher died shortly after his 75th birthday, and his daughter Gretl took over the theatre. The marionettes toured Europe, America and Asia, in New York, Paris, Italy, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan.
In 1991, to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, Götz Friedrich staged Mozart's Così fan tutte.
1994/95 brought TV and video recordings of all five major Mozart operas, with Sir Peter Ustinov as narrator, and from 1992–97 several productions were staged in co-operation with the Salzburg Landestheater. In 1996, the Salzburg marionettes collaborated with the Salzburg Festival in Carl Maria von Weber's opera Oberon, in the Small Festival Hall.
1998 saw the first collaboration with the Salzburg Easter Festival, in Sergey Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. To mark the 85th anniversary of the Marionette Theatre, the "World of Marionettes" museum was opened in Hohensalzburg Fortress.
In 2001, the theatre premièred the first spoken play for many years, with Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This was followed in December 2003 by the première of Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel.
The 2006 Salzburg Festival marked the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with performances of all 22 operas; Bastien und Bastienne and Der Schauspieldirektor were staged in collaboration with the Marionette Theatre – a collaboration continued in 2007.
The world-famous Broadway musical The Sound of Music was premiered on November 2, 2007 in Dallas, Texas.
In 2010 the Salzburg Marionette Theatre staged Claude Debussy's puppet ballet La boîte à joujoux (The Toy Box). The world-famous pianist Andràs Schiff initiated the project which was premiered at the Ittinger Pfingsttage (Switzerland). 2011 and 2012 The Little Prince
and a short version of The Ring of the Nibelung in cooperation with Salzburg State Theatre were brought on stage.
The death of Gretl Aicher in 2012 marks the end of the Aicher family's ownership after three generations.
2013 the Salzburg Marionette Theatre celebrates its 100th anniversary with the production Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
and Alice in Wonderland.
In 2016, the Austrian UNESCO commission designated the operating technique developed by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre a "most highly developed form of puppet and figure theatre" and declared this sophisticated, fine-tuned method Intangible UNESCO Cultural Heritage (Austrian List). With new productions such as Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven, new scenic approaches are taken and the technique of puppetry is refined.
Since 1913 the Salzburg Marionette Theatre made 270 tours throughout the world.
Since 1971, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre has been housed the historic building at Schwarzstrasse 24
– on the right side of Salzburg's Old Town, between the Landestheater and the International Mozarteum Foundation, and between the River Salzach on the one side and the Mirabell Palace with its world-famous garden on the other.
After it was founded in a studio in the Künstlerhaus in 1913, then moved to the gymnasium of the old Borromäum, and spent ten years in the temporary premises of the Kapitelsaal, the Marionette Theatre settled in Schwarzstrasse 24. This building has its own chequered history: between the Villa Lasser (now the Mozarteum Foundation) and the municipal theatre, Count Arco-Zinneberg's Kaltenhausen brewery had a restaurant and function-rooms built in 1893. The architect was Carl Demel, the master builder Valentin Ceconi. In 1897, the function-rooms were converted into the Hotel Mirabell.
Until 1968, the Mirabell Casino was part of the hotel. In 1970 reconstruction work was begun, in order to give the Marionette Theatre a new home. The former dining-room of the hotel was converted into the auditorium with the stage. It is still impressive, with its elaborate stucco-work and opulent painting. In the course of repairs to the foyer in 2000, the original stucco-work was discovered, and since 2003 the foyer ceiling can be admired in its former splendour.
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