Orchestra e coro Rossini di NapoliConductor: Silvio VarvisoRecording: Decca 1967
Premiere: Salzburg, July 11, 1971
New production: June 6, 2014
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
Accompanied by his servant and hired musicians, Count Almaviva serenades Dr. Bartolo’s young ward, Rosina. Disappointed at the lack of response, he sends his troupe away.
Figaro, barber and factotum, arrives on the scene, and with a promise of money Almaviva enlists his help in approaching the object of his desire.
Figaro advises the Count to try another song, and when Rosina appears on her balcony, Almaviva ardently declares his love, presenting himself as “Lindoro”. But how is he to gain access to the house? Figaro suggests introducing him as a drunken soldier seeking a billet.
Inside Bartolo’s house, Rosina waits at the window to glimpse “Lindoro”, to whom she has written a letter she wants Figaro to deliver.
Bartolo suspiciously demands the whereabouts of a missing sheet of writing-paper; Rosina has a ready answer, but he is hard to reassure, since the scheming music master Don Basilio has told him that Almaviva is in town looking for adventure. The best way to get rid of him would be to spread a scandalous rumour.
Almaviva pushes his way in, disguised as a drunken regimental doctor and noisily demanding a billet. He makes himself known to Rosina, and they exchange tender words. When the soldier becomes rowdy, Bartolo calls in the guard to arrest him, but they retreat when Almaviva secretly reveals his identity to them. Confusion reigns in Bartolo’s house.
Bartolo is uneasy: could this “colleague”, who is unknown in the regiment, be working for Almaviva? Yet another reason for Bartolo to marry Rosina as soon as possible! It is time for her music lesson, and Almaviva, in the guise of a young music master, Don Alonso, comes to deputise for Don Basilio who, he says, has been taken ill. “Don Alonso” begins the lesson, under Bartolo’s watchful eye. Figaro comes to shave him – and to distract his attention. Suddenly a perfectly healthy Basilio appears; Almaviva and Figaro persuade him with a fat medicinal purse that he is seriously ill and ought to be in bed. As Figaro soaps Bartolo’s face, the lovers plan to elope that night; Bartolo overhears them, and furiously ejects Figaro and the false music master. The faithful housekeeper Berta deplores these continuous uproars.
Bartolo sees only one way to obtain Rosina’s immediate consent to marriage: he tells her that her secret admirer is merely feigning love in order to deliver her to Count Almaviva. To thwart this disgraceful plan once and for all, he sends Don Basilio to fetch the notary and himself goes off to summon the town guard.
A sudden storm blows up over the town.
To carry out the elopement plan, Figaro scales the balcony and admits the Count. Rosina rejects the supposed matchmaker; only when “Lindoro” reveals his identity does she consent joyfully to flee with him.
Basilio, arriving with the notary, removes the ladder from the balcony.
Figaro, rising to the occasion, causes the baffled notary to declare Almaviva and Rosina man and wife. Bartolo’s exaggerated caution has failed notably. He arrives to find Rosina the newly-wed Countess Almaviva.
by Gottfried Kraus (1988)
Seeking to broaden the repertoire with operas suitable both for showing the marionettes' full expressive resources and for their appeal to international audiences, it was inevitable that the Salzburg marionettes would sooner or later come across Rossini's Barber of Seville. All the more so, since this work offered the opportunity of trying out an opera buffa in the Italian original, including recitatives. In addition, the Barber, which was rehearsed for the ceremonial opening of the new theatre in 1971, was also planned as a precursor to Mozart's Figaro. The plot, based on the first part of a trilogy by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, also precedes Figaro – though of course the text has nothing like the political impact of Figaro. Rossini's work shows a typical commedia situation, with far more strongly typified characters: the old Doctor Bartolo, who keeps his pretty ward Rosina under lock and key, intending to marry her for her fortune; the young Count who uses all manner of ruses to abduct Rosina; and the astute barber Figaro, who takes advantage of his trade to make himself indispensable in all situations, devising a solution to any problem. The music teacher Basilio and even Bartolo's elderly maidservant Bertha are figures in the traditional commedia.
And yet, Beaumarchais' comedy presages the development into character comedy which is then perfected in Le mariage de Figaro. Rossini's librettist Cesare Sterbini took over much of this – as when the young Count and Figaro philosophise over the power of money, when Basilio extols the fine art of slander, or Rosina resolutely takes her fate into her own hands. Rossini's tuneful music – composed thirty years after Mozart's Figaro, also long after Giovanni Paisiello's setting of the Barbiere – follows the easy appeal of the typical situations and figures rather than the possibilities for deeper characterisation. At some moments, however, it is extremely effective – as for instance in Basilio's "slander" aria – and is always full of vitality. Above all, it emphasises the comedic aspect, and seems ideal for the marionettes, which are far more suited than people to this kind of liveliness.
The marionettes' rendering of the Barber of Seville is full of lightness and charm. Even the décor appears contrived from the weightlessness of the music. Dr. Bartolo's house, with its charming little balcony, the interiors – stylised, but realistic down to the last detail, with transparent dividing walls that show the individual rooms of the house as required – all this possesses not only wit and style, but also a Mediterranean appeal. Likewise the figures, for which Josef Magnus created masterly physiognomies, at once types and individual characters, in fascinating differentiation.
Wolf-Dieter Ludwig's production successfully combines the characteristics of the marionettes with the specific dramatic features of opera buffa. What in Mozart's work may be interpreted as a kind of heightening into pure play-acting, is achieved in the Barber through pointed realism. The Count sings his serenade at the beginning to the accompaniment of a real little orchestra, their individual movements a sheer delight; Figaro shaves Doctor Bartolo in an exquisite choreography using every trick in the book, while Almaviva and Rosina plight their troth in the adjacent room as charming silhouettes; and during the storm, Figaro vaults with nimble elegance over the balcony railing as if he were an acrobat rather than a barber.
Nevertheless, all the realism is naturally exaggerated. In those very places where the ambiguity of the buffa becomes clear in music and action, the marionette has additional expressive resources of which stage directors of opera can only dream – as for instance, when the gaunt, demonic Basilio, in his "slander" aria, scares the stupendously comic yet tragic Doctor Bartolo out of his wits. Here the staging pulls out all the stops: to thunder and lightning, Bartolo's ashen terror fills the entire room. Or when Figaro, Rosina and Almaviva try to persuade the baffled Basilio that he has a high fever, and under the influence of the music and their persuasive powers he actually begins to shiver.
Hundreds of details demonstrate how the Salzburg marionettes achieve a dramatic and artistic interpretation far beyond the usual limits of puppet theatre, penetrating in their own peculiar way much deeper into the essence of buffa than I have ever experienced on the opera stage. Precisely because here they abstain from all modernisation and pretentious gags, because the stylisation of the marionettes makes every other mannered stylisation superfluous, the spectator finds here a kind of perfection that the opera stage is hardly able to achieve.
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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