Chor der Bayerischen StaatsoperBayerisches StaatsorchesterConductor: Ferenc FricsayHistorical recording: Deutsche Grammophon 1957
The dialogues were recorded in November 2018.Premiere: Bonn, September 15, 2019
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
Don Pizarro, governor of a state prison, fears that his crimes may come to light, and has unjustly imprisoned Florestan, a fighter for truth and justice. Florestan's wife, Leonore, suspects where her husband is being held, and sets out to free him. Disguised as a man and going by the name "Fidelio" she manages to find employment as assistant to Rocco, the jailer.
The new assistant soon earns Rocco's trust; he even countenances a relationship between Fidelio and his own daughter Marzelline, who was actually promised to the porter, Jaquino. Fidelio asks Rocco to prove his trust by allowing her to visit the prison with him. He agrees, but tells her there is one particular prisoner they cannot visit. Fidelio surmises that it must be Florestan.
Don Pizarro, having received a message that the Minister of State wishes to inspect the prison, in search of victims of arbitrary incarceration, realises that Florestan must be killed.
When Rocco refuses to do this, Pizarro decides to do the deed himself, and posts guards to warn him with a trumpet-call of the Minister's arrival. Fidelio guesses what fate awaits her husband, and asks Rocco to allow the prisoners into the garden for exercise – but she does not see Florestan among them.
In the dungeon, Florestan bemoans his fate. Shaken by fever, he has a vision of his wife, then falls unconscious.
Rocco and Fidelio descend into the dungeon to dig the grave. Fidelio recognises the prisoner as her husband. When Pizarro enters and raises a dagger against Florestan, Fidelio reveals herself as Leonore and aims a pistol at Pizarro. At that moment, a trumpet-call signals the Minister's arrival. Pizarro leaves the dungeon, and the couple embrace in "joy beyond name".
On the parade ground, the Minister greets his friend Florestan, whom he had believed dead. Leonore unlocks her husband's chains, and all the prisoners are freed.
"Once upon a time in the distant future..."
"All Fidelio productions remain somehow unsatisfying, stuck somewhere between banal and abstract, between contrived and abusive. And the excuse is always the allegedly weak libretto."
Leonore knows what love is – she loves Florestan. With the strength of this love she has to fight against evil and all manner of adversity, until she is almost crushed by the boundless power of fear, to the point where she overcomes the fear of death. Only then are freedom and love achieved – far more even than domestic bliss, a power greater than ourselves and still in the realms of our fantasy, transforms all death into life.
If I want to tell what I hear in the text and music of Fidelio, with its "little people" and their "superiors", with the courageous actions of the heroine and a happy ending that shines far beyond what is not yet possible, then for me that's like in any good fairy-tale.
Undaunted, Leonore throws herself between death and her husband. It is her ability to surmount fear that brings about the happy ending. A fairy-tale is always a story of hope.
Or else: Leonore refuses to allow evil to rule her life – indeed, all life – so she has to overcome justifiable fear to confront evil face to face. This clears the way for the liberation of all concerned and the utter defeat of evil.
The down-to-earth story with simple everyday characters makes Beethoven's music not only glorious, powerful and emotional, but it forces the protagonists into a variety of levels, and the action into a demand for our future. Without the libretto, which places the figures in everyday life, the music would run the risk of being l'art pour l'art; conversely, the figures without the music would degenerate into kitsch.
Without the text, the hope expressed in the music would be merely a noble request linked to the simple figures, but hope for a better tomorrow. Judging by the figures alone, the music evokes something sorely missed.
Fidelio, a fairy-tale told from the boundless longing to bring Beethoven's "brotherly love" into our own world. It attempts to capture a humane utopia that loomed so large on the horizon but has long since dwindled away.
The characters in Fidelio are down-to-earth figures, as in a fairy-tale but, as in a fairy-tale, also much more.
Reading aloud or narrating the story, this "more" is no problem. The audience's imagination brings the figures alive – according to individual notions, experiences, dreams.
When the roles are played by real people in film or theatre, this may lend reality to the spectators' imagination, but this very reality makes any development into a hoped-for magical future implausible, and the effect is generally ridiculous.
This limitation does not apply to marionettes. Initially, they are simply a piece of wood, and only the spectators' imagination brings them to life. They can fly with ease, their gravitational force is in the heavens. At the other end, no-one can die so beautifully – dead wood, no longer animated, is simply dead.
This is perhaps how to tell the story of a prison and its inhabitants, prisoners and guards – the latter probably a lousy job, possibly pensionable, where they may try to shape a life in service, or servitude, by saving a little money and maintaining a touch of humour and the desire for a bit of home life. Into this world behind bars, where even the trees are barred, comes a woman ready to fight for love. Whoever comes into contact with her feels their heart reawakening.
A great fairy-tale, despite – or rather against – the failure of the French Revolution, despite Napoleon's delusions of grandeur, despite all the evil in the world, and against the ebbing of all hope – the basis of our life.
The heroine must go on, must venture down into deepest darkness, must pass through extreme fear to the point of no return, where life and death rub shoulders. Only then can there be redemption. Then there is gratitude and celebration and life is one great festivity. And they all live happily ever after.
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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