Wiener PhilharmonikerConductor: Sir Georg SoltiRecording: Decca 1958-1964
This production is dedicated to Prof. Gretl Aicher (1928-2012).
Premiere: March 30, 2012
A coproduction with the Salzburger Landestheater
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
The Nibelung Alberich steals the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens and fashions from it a ring which will make him ruler of the world, but only if he renounces love.
Meanwhile, Wotan, father of the gods, has a different problem. The giants Fasolt and Fafner have built a great castle for him, and he has offered them the goddess Freia as their reward. The giants, however, demand Alberich's treasure instead. Wotan wrests the gold and the Ring from Alberich, who places a curse on the Ring.
Wotan immediately becomes infatuated with the power of the Ring. The giants return to demand payment, including Alberich's magic helmet and the Ring. Wotan hesitates, but when the dispute comes to a head, the earth goddess Erda appears, prophesying the downfall of the gods if Wotan should keep the Ring. He hands it over. Freia is released and the gods enter Valhalla. The curse is already at work, however. The giants fight; Fafner strikes his brother dead and flees with the Ring.
Years later, the problem is now Wotan's illegitimate twin children Siegmund and Sieglinde, fathered on a mortal woman and separated in early childhood.
Siegmund arrives at the house of Sieglinde, whose husband Hunding challenges him to a duel. Wotan's wife Fricka, goddess of marriage, has had enough of his escapades and demands that he shall not support Siegmund in the fight. Wotan asks his daughter Brünnhilde, a Valkyrie, to tell Siegmund of his impending death. Heroically, Siegmund says he will not go to Valhalla, since he cannot take Sieglinde with him. Brünnhilde, deeply moved, defies her father, who sends her into a long sleep from which only a fearless hero, her future husband, can awaken her.
Years pass, and Siegfried, son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, arrives on the scene. Sieglinde having died in childbirth, Siegfried has been raised by Alberich's brother Mime.
Wotan intends to use him to free the world from the curse of the Ring. Siegfried kills Fafner – who, in the form of a dragon, has been guarding the treasure – and takes the Ring. He finds Brünnhilde and wakes her; as a token of his love, he gives her the Ring.
Meantime, Alberich's son Hagen plots with his half-siblings Gunther and Gutrune to recapture the Ring. Gutrune gives Siegfried a love-potion which causes him to forget Brünnhilde and fall passionately in love with Gutrune. Siegfried takes the Ring from Brünnhilde; mortified by his rejection of her, she discloses to Hagen that Siegfried's one vulnerable spot is his back. Hagen kills Siegfried who, as he lies dying, remembers his love for Brünnhilde. She has his body placed on a funeral pyre and joins him in the flames. The Rhine overflows, and the Rhinemaidens recover their rightful possession, the Ring. Thanks to Brünnhilde's love, the curse is lifted. But the downfall of the gods has come to pass, and a new, uncertain world order dawns.
In 1849, Wagner had to flee Dresden because of his involvement in the May Uprising. He found refuge in Weimar with Franz Liszt, who helped him to escape to Switzerland. In Zurich, Wagner wrote a series of essays, including Opera and Drama
(published in 1851), a systematic explanation of aesthetics and dramaturgy – a theory he used in his later works. The basic principles of Opera and Drama are best illustrated in The Nibelung's Ring, which consists of four consecutive operas. Wagner spent 20 years working on the Ring
cycle, the theme of which combines two groups of Germanic legends: on the one hand the legend of Siegfried, on the other the story of the fall of the gods. He began composing the first opera, The Rhinegold, in 1853; the second, The Valkyrie, was completed in 1857. Only after an intermediate phase during which he composed Tristan and Isolde and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, did he resume work on the Ring in 1865. The final opera, Twilight of the Gods, was completed nine years later. The first performance of the entire tetralogy took place in Bayreuth in 1876. The material for his work, derived from mythology, describes the links between eternal powers and the relationship of humans to God. Thus the Ring
contains great mythological questions, of religious, social and economic relevance. A decisive element for Wagner is the relation between music and text. In Opera and Drama he formulates dogmatically: "The error in the art-genre of opera consisted herein, that a means of expression (music) was made the end, whereas the end of expression (the drama) was made the means." He concluded that music and drama had to grow organically from the necessity of dramatic expression, as two aspects of the same thing. Not only drama, however, but also other art forms such as dance, architecture and painting should be included in this synthesis in order to make the music drama a total art-work. For Wagner, the "music of the future" would no longer stand in isolation, as hitherto, but would exist as part of the total art-work.
by Tobias Hell
At first glance, it might seem absurd to describe Richard Wagner, creator of The Nibelung's Ring, as a master of miniature. In view of the widely ramified groups of legends concentrated and artistically interwoven in his tetralogy, however, the Ring presents a compressed version of Germanic myth, focusing on central human conflicts and taking time to shed light on details.
Of course, Wagner's magnum opus contains plenty of clichés – such as the woman with the winged helmet or the hero in a bearskin – that are frequently the butt of parody. Regrettably, it has to be admitted that the blond, blue-eyed model hero Siegfried, with his naïve sledgehammer mentality is not going to gain much sympathy from modern audiences, unlike his bride/aunt Brünnhilde, who undergoes a far greater development in the course of three operas. Then it makes sense that the title of the final part of the tetralogy, originally planned as "Siegfried's death", was changed to Twilight of the Gods, and the formerly divine, now mortal Valkyrie became the key figure for the central idea of redemption in all Wagner's works.
This tendency is betokened even in the Old Germanic legends. The Sigurdlied in the Old Norse Edda tells of the warlike Brynhild, who will accept only the strongest hero as husband and has withdrawn into her fortress surrounded by a wall of fire. The valiant Sigurd alone is able to ride through the flames. He does this, however, in the shape of Gunnar, in order to win the bride for his friend. Later, when Brynhild discovers the trick, she hatches a plan to have Sigurd killed, and after his death she kills herself. Parallel to this, in a different episode, the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa defies Odin and against his will protects the young Agnar in battle; Odin strikes her with a sleep-thorn and places her in a ring of fire, which can be broken only by a man who knows no fear.
In Germanic myth, the contrasting characters of the warlike princess and the Valkyrie in love soon merged into a single figure, as in the Völsungasaga, which was also an important source of material for Wagner, and from which he also borrowed the name for his "Wälsungs". In the Ring, he went a step further, making Brünnhilde Wotan's daughter. The "valiant, glorious child", however, like her ten half-sisters, were not born of his marriage with Fricka, goddess of marriage, but were the love-children of Wotan and earth goddess Erda. Combined in Brünnhilde are the dynamism of her father and the wisdom of her omniscient – though always passively observing – mother. Thus she symbolises the reconciliation of two opposites, which makes possible the final redemption in Twilight of the Gods.
"Freedom, truthfulness and love“: these three aspects, according to a letter Wagner wrote in 1854, dominate the Ring in diverse variations. Only in the synthesis of these ideals did the politically committed composer see the possibility of a new utopian society. Although the young Siegfried initially appears as the "most fearless of heroes" sought by Wotan and Wagner, in the course of Twilight of the Gods
it turns out that his fate, too, is influenced by external circumstances, and ultimately he becomes the unsuspecting victim of an intrigue. Only with the entrance of Brünnhilde, now enlightened, and the renewed union of man and wife, does the redemption of the gods and the world become attainable. This aspect is frequently underrated in feminist interpretations of the Ring
that emphasise the role of the women and mothers as victims in Wagner's work. Admittedly, Sieglinde, like her unnamed mother, has to sacrifice her life for her child, and the men carelessly hold Freia to ransom for the Ring. But at the decisive moments, we notice how often it is the women who drive the action on. Thus it is not Siegmund, but Sieglinde, who gives her detested husband Hunding a sleeping-draught, allowing her to flee with her brother. And Brünnhilde repeatedly defies Wotan, who seems trapped in his own laws and contracts, losing more and more of his power to the younger generation.
Brünnhilde, especially, has a long way to travel within the tetralogy. Her first entrance, with the famous "Hojotoho" battle-cry, shows her as one of the warlike Valkyries. Even when, soon afterwards, she appears as an individual with increasingly human features, this musical motif remains a fixed trait which, in moments of great emotion, often flares up briefly: in the Siegfried finale, for instance, in Brünnhilde's final outburst before the couple fall into each other's arms, or when, having been tricked, she is presented to the Gibichungs as Gunther's bride. Then for the last time, when, mounted on her steed Grane, she rides into the flames of Siegfried's funeral pyre, thus setting alight the world-consuming conflagration.
It is, however, a quite different idea that concludes the almost sixteen hours of music. The Rhine Maidens' song is heard again briefly, as they at last regain possession of the Ring – but the original state of innocence can no longer be regained. Thus, after the Valhalla and Siegfried motifs recur one last time, Wagner restates the passage from Act III of The Valkyrie where Sieglinde sings a hymn to her unborn son Siegfried and to Brünnhilde, who is consoling her – "O radiant wonder! Glorious maid!" – thus awakening hope for a new beginning.
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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