Premiere: Salzburg, June 18, 2016
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
The pilot makes an emergency landing in the desert, and is trying to repair his plane when he meets the Little Prince, who tells him about the long journey he has made.
The Prince doesn't come from Earth, but from a tiny planet where there isn't much to see. There are three volcanoes, which have to be kept clean; baobab trees, which have to be rooted out regularly so as not to overgrow the planet; and a talking rose who wants constant admiration.
The Prince decided to leave his planet in order to make friends elsewhere. On other planets he meets various characters: a King who regards the Prince as his subject; a conceited man who seeks only admiration; a drunkard who drinks to forget the shame of drinking; a businessman who thinks he owns the stars; and a lamplighter who spends his entire life performing this single duty.
The Prince finally lands on planet Earth, in the desert, where his first encounter is with a snake, who promises to send him back to his planet if he gets homesick. The Prince continues on his way until he meets a fox, who tells him that we are forever responsible for whatever we have made friends with, and also tells him: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
When the Prince has finished his story, he goes with the pilot to look for water, and finds a well. He tells the pilot it is time for him to return home to his rose, and the pilot realises why the Prince has arranged to meet the snake that night …
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
The fanciful tale of the little blond, curly-headed boy who, after an argument with his rose, leaves his planet to explore the world, was published in New York in 1943. It is far more than a fairy-tale. Saint-Exupéry's novella, which has sold over 140 million copies worldwide, is one of the most noteworthy books of the 20th century. It is a childlike, philosophical work for adults and a very adult children's book.
Saint-Exupéry, a pilot and a profound thinker, carried the Little Prince in his mind for a long time, often drawing him on scraps of paper or table-napkins, and speaking of his "pal that I carry in my heart".
This book – still a telling plea for friendship and compassion – is still one of the 20 most-read books in the world. Translated into 270 languages and dialects, filmed several times and set to music, The Little Prince is frequently performed in famous theatres and is one of the most relevant works in our cultural history.
The Salzburg Marionette Theatre is particularly suited to staging the work. The stage, an illusionary space, transports the audience into the world of the Little Prince. Seen through his eyes, the everyday world appears in a different light. The rendering as a marionette enables the figure to remain faithful to the author's sketches, so that the images are familiar to the audience.
The marionette theatre enables us to 'conjure' with magical resources, as otherwise only film can do. We can fly or turn somersaults in the air, planets can zoom past and flowers can speak. A person can appear gigantic or the size of a pea. And what happens when puppeteer and puppet are visible at the same time? Which of them is real – and what does 'real' mean in the theatre?
The Little Prince reaches out to an audience that includes several generations. Children can be introduced to theatre as a cultural institution, and adults encouraged to reactivate their all too often neglected imagination – a faculty we can never nurture enough.
Particularly after the reconstruction of the Marionette Theatre, a piece like The Little Prince is ideal for trying out the new resources offered by the stage.
What an amazing effect, when the Little Prince looks up and sees the shadow of a "big" puppeteer who lifts him up and speaks to him. Or when the little planet where the Prince sits suddenly expands, the image covering the entire proscenium. Or what does it signify when the Prince asks the puppeteers to raise his hand, and his hands remain motionless? Where do the shadows go when they're no longer visible? These are all new dimensions of the Marionette Theatre which were previously hardly in evidence in Salzburg, but which enable novel, flexible techniques. We can take a step forward without losing anything of our tradition.
All this is not necessarily tied to the large marionette stage in Salzburg, but can also – thanks to the new travelling stage – easily be taken on tour.
Where else in the theatre can 14 roles be played by only 4 puppeteers? Where else can an entire ballet perform, operated by a single puppeteer?
The idea, language and marionette rendering of The Little Prince open up a wide range of possibilities. The puppeteers, occasionally visible, become part of the staging, as supporters or opponents of the marionettes. Just as the Little Prince was Saint-Exupéry's alter ego, the individual puppeteers have a special relationship with their figures. The illusionary power of the marionette stage is never disrupted, however; the ability of the audience to use their imagination even increases the illusion. The success of this device is evident in, for example The Sound of Music, where one role is played by an actor on the stage, which is specifically built to allow this collaboration.
Human imagination is also the basis for great ideas, and this is demanded in theatre – particularly in the marionette theatre. By watching, the spectator makes a contribution to creating the illusion. This is what makes a visit to the theatre such a lasting experience, and is surely also the reason why the Marionette Theatre has so many audience members who used to come as children and now bring their own children and grandchildren.
Through my work in prestigious theatres and the wide interest in this project, I assume that we will find distinguished actors willing to speak the role of the Little Prince, bringing him alive with their familiar voice.
There is a lot to say about this project. The stage will be splendidly poetic and all the various little figures on it will create an unforgettable experience for the audience.
However, "words are the source of misunderstandings", says the Little Prince. So, to avoid these, let us just begin.
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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