Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Conductor: Ernest AnsermetRecording: Decca 1958
Premiere: 1978New staging: December 26, 2017
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
It is Christmas Eve, and guests are assembling at the house where Clara and her brother Fritz live with their parents. The last to arrive is their Uncle Drosselmeyer, who brings a nutcracker doll as a gift for Clara. Fritz tries to take it from her, but she hugs her precious prize.
The guests go off to dance; Clara remains alone, and falls asleep with the nutcracker in her lap.
When midnight strikes, the nutcracker is attacked by an army of mice, and Clara defends it.
Drosselmeyer appears suddenly and mysteriously – no longer as the kindly uncle, but as a magician; he drives away the mice and turns the nutcracker into a Prince. Clara and the Prince find themselves in a winter landscape and are carried up to the clouds in a balloon.
Clara and her prince land in a fairytale realm, where dances from many different countries are performed for them.
The highlight is the Waltz of the Flowers.
The morning peal of the church bell interrupts the festivities. The nanny comes to wake Clara from the loveliest dream she has ever known …
by Gottfried Kraus (1988)
For the Salzburg marionettes, ballet – as the perfect synthesis of music and movement – soon brought a special challenge. It was not without good reason that Heinrich von Kleist, in his essay on puppet theatre, made the dialogue with the dancer, rather than the actor. Thus the Salzburg marionettes' first pure study in ballet, Anna Pavlova's dance to Camille Saint-Saens' The Swan, was more than simply a tribute to the Russian ballet tradition, which Hermann Aicher and his marionettes encountered for the first time on their tour to Russia in 1936. The Pavlova puppet – one of the most elaborate to date – with her consummate grace, became a special attraction of the Marionette Theatre. Nevertheless, it was a long time before the Salzburg marionettes once again took up the challenge of ballet.
In 1951, a ballet-pantomime to Mozart's popular Kleine Nachtmusik brought the further idea of choreographing the ballet interludes for Die Fledermaus. Hermann Aicher engaged professional choreographers: first, dancer Hans Birkenstock, then choreographer Sylvia Wenschau. The first venture of a full-length ballet in 1953 – to the music of Mozart's Serenade
and the "dying swan" together with parts of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite – Sylvia Wenschau choreographed imaginative dance scenes featuring the skater, the Arabian belly-dancer and the delightful Four Seasons.
The idea of making this dance sequence – a great favourite with audiences – into a complete Nutcracker ballet came from Gretl Aicher's wish, after her father's death, to set her ensemble a special artistic challenge. The stars were propitious: a combination of Klaus Gmeiner's keenness on the subject, the experience in dance and choreography of the Salzburg ballet-master Leonard Salaz, and the enthusiasm of the puppeteers for the imaginative task.
Klaus Gmeiner wrote a scenario after E.T. A. Hoffmann's tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which Tchaikovsky used for his ballet in the adaptation by Alexander Dumas père. Gmeiner cleverly combined the existing figures and scenic ideas with the magical, childlike style of music, which strongly reflects the artistic and social sphere of the late 19th century. Tchaikovsky, then nearing the end of his life, had originally arranged the tale as a children's play in his sister's house. Then it was made into a ballet, upon which he worked in 1891 and 1892, interrupted by various travels and distracted by distressing events in his personal life. Nevertheless, the Nutcracker music is full of lightness, humour and delight in colour and fantasy. He completed the work on 25 March 1892, and in a letter to his publisher spoke about the "wonderful feeling" it had given him. In autumn 1892 The Nutcracker was premièred in the Imperial Mariinksi Theatre in St Petersburg, after Czar Alexander III himself had given permission on the basis of the dress rehearsal; a year later, in November 1893, Tchaikovsky died in St Petersburg. The Nutcracker, however, along with The Sleeping Beauty, became his most popular composition, and one of the successful ballets ever.
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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