RIAS-KammerchorBerliner MotettenchorRIAS-Sinfonie-Orchester BerlinConductor: Ferenc FricsayHistorical recording: Deutsche Grammophon 1955
Premiere: Boston, October 8, 1952New productions: 1960 and 2015
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
Sarastro, High Priest of Isis, has abducted Pamina to remove her from the evil influence of her mother, the Queen of the Night. The young prince Tamino has strayed into the Queen's realm while hunting.
The Queen prevails upon Tamino to rescue Pamina, whose portrait has kindled his love. He is given a magic flute for protection on the way. The bird-catcher Papageno, who will be his companion, receives a magic chime of bells.
In Sarastro’s palace, Pamina is being importuned by the Moor Monostatos, captain of the guard. Papageno is the first to enter the palace; he finds Pamina, and together they go in search of Tamino, who has been guided to the palace by the three Boys. Discovering that Sarastro, far from being a wicked magician, is the high priest in the Temple of Wisdom, Tamino is willing to undergo ordeals in order to be admitted to the Temple and to win Pamina. He plays on his flute, in the hope that Papageno will reply, but only wild animals come.
Attempting to escape, Papageno and Pamina are intercepted by Monostatos who is, however, subdued by the magic chimes. Sarastro appears with his attendants, making escape impossible. Monostatos drags in Tamino, and the lovers embrace. Pamina, Tamino and Papageno are taken into the temple, where they are bound to silence.
Sarastro announces to the assembled priests that Tamino has been chosen by the gods as Pamina’s consort, but must first gain admission to the Temple. Monostatos still has designs on Pamina. The Queen of the Night appears and urges her daughter to avenge her by killing Sarastro.
When Pamina begs Sarastro’s mercy for her mother, he tells her that vengeful thoughts have no place in the temple.
Tamino endures all the ordeals with fortitude, even when Pamina believes he is rejecting her because he will not break his vow of silence.
Together, Tamino and Pamina undergo the final ordeals of fire and water.
Although Papageno has no taste for ordeals, in the end he is granted his Papagena.
The Queen’s attempts to take vengeance on Sarastro through Monostatos (to whom she has promised her daughter as a reward) are in vain. Sarastro receives Tamino and Pamina, now united, into the circle of initiates. The sun’s rays drive away the night.
by Gottfried Kraus (1988)
The Magic Flute is not only the oldest Mozart production in the repertoire of the Salzburg marionettes and still their greatest success, but over more than 35 years and many hundreds of performances, it has become almost the Theatre's trademark. The production has hardly changed since the first performance, in 1952, which was rehearsed in only a few weeks for a US tour. Although the first recording used (from the Salzburg Festival) was replaced in 1960 by a studio recording conducted by Ferenc Fricsay, and at the same time the décor was adapted to the now deeper stage, Günther Schneider-Siemssen's stage-sets and the marionettes, designed by Josef Magnus and costumed by Friedl Aicher, have remained the same. Also, no changes were made to Geza Rech's staging concept, since it was considered that the work could be staged differently but certainly not better.
Mozart's Magic Flute contains diverse stylistic elements, with several different dramatic levels coming together. Here is the baroque mystery play – dignified, with its strict formal order; here are influences from Freemasonry, where brotherly love, wisdom and knowledge were considered high virtues; influence of folk theatre is also perceptible – not only in the figure of Papageno, but also in the fairy-tale style of the whole piece. Nevertheless, from these motley stylistic and dramatic elements Mozart created a higher totality, a complex work of art which reflects his own personality as does no other of his stage works. Papageno's worldly cheerfulness was just as much part of Mozart's character as Tamino's noble-minded aspiration to knowledge and Sarastro's wisdom and humaneness. The constantly changing levels of the libretto presented no problem to the composer, who saw them as an expression of the variety of life, which is to be taken as a whole.
Rarely has this totality of The Magic Flute been so seamlessly and unpretentiously rendered as on the stage of the Salzburg marionettes. Here the fairy-tale becomes reality: the serpent that pursues Tamino is the monster we have all seen in childhood fantasies; Tamino himself, in his demeanour and gestures, is the epitome of the fairy-tale prince – no rotund tenor for whose appearance allowances must be made for the sake of his fine voice. Papageno in his plumage, the Queen of the Night against a star-studded background, the Three Ladies, modest caricatures of the eternal feminine – all of them belong in an illusory world which, on the marionette stage, can easily be seen as reality, not least because its sheer weightlessness cancels out any naturalistic effect. With similar ease, the fairy-tale transforms into a mystery play showing the maturing process of the man, Pamina's awakening into womanhood, the victory of light over darkness and the innocent worldly bliss of naïvety – all quite simply as components of the Magic Flute fairy-tale, which embraces the entire cosmos of human life through the formative power of Mozart's music.
The illusion of this marionette Magic Flute would surely, however, not have been so perfect without the ideal complement of the recording conducted by the tragically short-lived Ferenc Fricsay who, in his monograph About Mozart and Bartók, called The Magic Flute a "paean of humaneness". Fricsay's interpretation of the Magic Flute music accommodates the intentions of the Salzburg marionettes particularly well, for it is not melodramatic and never sentimental, but lively and streamlined, clearly formed and articulated. With singers including Maria Stader, Rita Streich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Josef Greindl, this recording has helped the puppeteers tirelessly through countless performances worldwide, making The Magic Flute comprehensible to people who had never in all their lives seen or heard a Mozart opera – perhaps even setting a standard for a production of this work in the spirit of Mozart.
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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