The Founding History
The Aicher family – three generations for the marionettes
For almost 100 years the Aicher family was the defining force behind the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, and a pillar of the town's cultural life. Three generations directed the theatre with loving care and artistic skill, well aware of their responsibility to maintain this highly specialised art in Central Europe.
Anton Aicher: a sculptor dreams of a puppet theatre
Anton Aicher (1859–1930), born in Styria, had a dream. After graduating from the Vienna Academy of Art and taking a teaching post for sculpture at the state vocational college in Salzburg, he dreamed of establishing a puppet theatre in Salzburg, like the famous Munich marionette theatre of "Papa" Leonard Schmid. In 1885 he married Rosina Deutsch, daughter of a landowner near Graz. They had three children – Notburga, Karl and Hermann (1902–1977). Anton had meanwhile made contact with "Papa" Schmid – now aged almost 80 – who allowed him to look around the world of the Munich marionettes. But he imagined a theatre with technical facilities and an artistic language all its own, a theatre which could maintain its position within the tradition of the Salzburg "Kasperl-Theater" [roughly equivalent to the "Punch & Judy" show].
The first steps of the Salzburg marionettes
Anton Aicher persuaded some of his students to help on a freelance basis with the construction of the first small stage, in his studio in the Salzburg Künstlerhaus. As a sculptor, he himself was the motivating force; today, his small marionettes (only 20–30 cm tall) still provide the artistic basis for the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. It was largely their fine detail and unsurpassed expressive force that made it possible for the theatre to play a major role in illusionist puppetry, where the puppeteer is not visible and the puppet moves in a lifelike way. Anton Aicher's innovation was not limited to shaping the figures, however; he also improved the technical operation of the marionettes, developing a new kind of operating cross, a perfected form of which is still in use in the Marionette Theatre.
The birth of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre
27 February 1913 saw the first public performance, with Mozart's Singspiel Bastien und Bastienne. This was a huge success, and further small operas followed in the ensuing years. The main focus, however, was still on Franz von Pocci's "Kasperl-Theater". In contrast to the more earthy "Larifari" in Munich, Aicher's main figure, the Salzburg Kasperl, was a far more sensitive, gentle, sometimes even melancholy character, who for many years personified the Marionette Theatre. Actor friends performed the live spoken roles, and a musical accompaniment was provided by piano or string quartet. Anton's daughter Notburga looked after the business side of things. Aged only 11 at the first performance, his son Hermann continued to be an enthusiastic puppeteer; he also attended sculpture courses in Vienna, but then returned to Salzburg. On his marriage in 1926 to the young singer Elfriede Eschenlohr, his father handed over the Marionette Theatre (which had by that time moved to the Old Borromäum) to him as a wedding present.
Hermann Aicher: investment in expansion and renovation
Hermann Aicher set about renovating the theatre, keeping up with technical innovations for the stage while taking into account the wish for fantasy in the repertoire, with utopian plays including Die Raumrakete [The space rocket], Das Weihnachtswunder [The Christmas Miracle], and Der Frühlingszauber [Spring Magic]. His young wife took over the costume department and directed the singers and actors under the stage. Their daughters Friedl and Gertl were born in 1926 and 1928 respectively, and during the 1930s the young family made extensive trips abroad to publicise the theatre. They toured to Hamburg, Vienna, Holland, and an extensive tout in the Balkans took the marionettes to Sofia, Athens and even Istanbul. In 1936 they visited Moscow and Leningrad, where they played to audiences of up to 2,500. For this they had to make new, larger marionettes. A particular attraction was the "dying swan", with a marionette modelled on the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. The following year, in a puppet-theatre competition at the Paris Exposition, they were awarded the gold medal.
The Nazi period: the Marionette Theatre as an instrument of propaganda
After the Anschluss, the Marionette Theatre became an instrument for propaganda, undertaking many tours through Germany; during the latter war years it was used as a "front theatre" for the entertainment of the soldiers in Norway. Hermann Aicher was conscripted in 1944. In September 1944, all theatres were closed; only at Christmas were a few performances permitted.
The post-War years: a period of rationalisation
Immediately after the War, the Salzburg marionettes at first played exclusively for the Allied forces, in return for urgently needed provisions. In 1947, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre gave the first German-language guest performance in Paris, in the famous Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Hermann Aicher still had at his disposal a sizeable ensemble, which allowed him to perform in Salzburg all year round, while at the same time undertaking tours. However, the Borromäum was in a state of serious disrepair, and when the authorities closed it down in 1950, the theatre was forced to abandon hundreds of stage-sets adapted to the premises. A period of rationalisation set in. Hermann Aicher seized the opportunity offered by new recording techniques and commercial recordings; at last it was possible to produce major plays and operas – and in different languages. The Marionette Theatre started touring again – first in 1951/52 in America, then Asia, establishing their reputation as ambassador for the art of puppetry.
The "little opera house" finds a big home
Under Hermann Aicher, Mozart's operas became the Theatre's core repertoire, with the support of the young stage-set designer Günther Schneider-Siemssen, who started his career with the Salzburg marionettes, and from 1952 until 1991 was solely responsible for designing all productions. He often insisted on technical innovations for the stage, and encouraged the puppet-makers to further refine the mechanics of their marionettes. A major highlight of Hermann Aicher's era was surely when, after ten years in temporary premises in the Kapitelsaal, 1971, the Theatre was at last able to move into its permanent home in the Schwarzstrasse, where it is today.
Gretl Aicher: a director with vision
Hermann died suddenly in 1977, and his daughter Gretl, who had trained and performed in the theatre since her youth, took over the artistic direction. Under her ægis, further generations of puppeteers were trained, and with her precise technique and expressive force, she achieved prominence for the marionettes. One of her chief concerns was to present marionette performance as an art, and to have it recognised as such. She persuaded internationally distinguished stage directors such as Götz Friedrich and Wolf-Dieter Ludwig to work for the Marionette Theatre. The repertoire was expanded in the field of music theatre to include The Nutcracker and The Tales of Hoffmann, and the trio of Mozart's Da Ponte operas was completed, with The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte. There followed co-productions with the Salzburg Festival (Oberon, Peter and the Wolf, Bastien und Bastienne) and the Salzburg Landestheater (Josa with his Magic Fiddle, The Little Prince, The Ring of the Nibelung). The new millennium started with further international successes: Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, and the musical The Sound of Music.
Gretl Aicher's sudden death in March 2012 ended the 100-year Aicher family history, and thus the history of the founding of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
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.
- Januar: Premiere der Neuproduktion Der alte Baum - oder Franzis Reise zum Ende der Welt in Kooperation mit der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum im Rahmen der Mozartwoche 2023
- March: The Salzburg Marionette Theatre goes on its first excursion to schools in Salzburg and neighbouring Bavaria, performing Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev. The eight puppeteers' baggage: 15 marionettes and figures, around 200 kg stage set and properties, and the sound and lighting equipment.
- Salzburg premiere of Fidelio
- Start of the recording of the complete Marionette Theatre productions in co-operation with myfidelio/ORF III
- Guest performance of Fidelio at the Residenz Festival in Darmstadt
- Susanne Tiefenbacher takes over the management of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
- New production of Pùnkitititi in co-operation with the International Mozarteum Foundation
- Co-operation with the International Mozarteum Foundation in Bastien and Bastienne and The Impresario
- Reprise of The Tales of Hoffmann and new staging of Fidelio for the Beethoven Festival in Bonn/Germany
- USA tour
- Tours to Mexico and China
- New production of The Little Prince
- Tours to USA and China
- New staging of The Magic Flute and reprise of Rumpelstiltskin
- Inclusion in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage
- New production of Peter and the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood
- Guest performance in Brussels: The Ring of the Nibelung
- Autumn: first tour to China
- Co-production with the Salzburg Landestheater: Where the Wild Things Are and The Magic Flute
- New staging of The Barber of Seville for a co-operation with the Salzburg Whitsun Festival under Cecilia Bartoli
- Guest performances in France and Germany, and a five-week USA tour
- Guest performance in Muscat/Oman
- On 27 February, 100th-anniversary celebrations of the Marionette Theatre, including the reprise of the fairy-tale Snow White
- In September: première of the new production of Alice in Wonderland
- Major tour through the USA
- Co-production with the Salzburg Landestheater: The Ring of the Nibelung
- Guest performance in the Carnegie Hall, New York
- Tour in Switzerland and France
- Gretl Aicher, long-standing director of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, dies unexpectedly on 14 March 2012.
- Guest performance in Taiwan, in the Vienna Konzerthaus and Palermo
- Invitation to Abu Dhabi
- New production of Claude Debussy's La boîte à joujoux (The toy-Box) for the Ittinger Pfingsttage – András Schiff accompanies the ensemble live at the piano.
- Production of a French version of The Sound of Music for four-week guest performance in Paris over Christmas and New Year
- Performances in Essen and Leverkusen
- The Marionette Theatre's first tour to the Arab world for the "Spring of Culture" in Bahrain.
- Première of The Sound of Music in Salzburg
- Tours to Athens and Madrid
- In December: three-week guest performance in Paris with a French version of A Midsummer Night's Dream
- Reprise of the co-production with the Salzburg Festival – Bastien und Bastienne and The Impresario
- Rehearsals for the Broadway musical The Sound of Music, premièred in Dallas on 2 November at the start of a five-week tour in the USA
- March: the Marionette Theatre gives guest performances of its Mozart repertoire for three weeks in the Théâtre Déjazet, Paris,
- followed by performances in Strasbourg and Milan
- The Marionette Theatre takes part in the Salzburg Festival's series of all 22 Mozart operas and rehearses a co-production of Bastien and Bastienne and The Impresario
- Performances in Costa Mesa/California
- Three-week tour through France
- Since 1913, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre has done 250 tours and guest performances at home and abroad.
- Première of An Hour with Mozart
- Guest performances in Switzerland, France and Hungary
- Six-week USA tour
- Five-week USA tour
- In Autumn the Marionette Theatre travels to Japan.
- The Society of Friends of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre is founded.
- In February, Marionette Theatre celebrates its 90th anniversary.
- Restoration of the foyer
- Première of Humperdinck's fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel
- Première of A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
- Dr. Barbara Heuberger takes over the management of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
- First collaboration with the Salzburg Easter Festival in Sergey Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with Tobias Moretti as narrator
- To mark the 70th birthday of Gretl Aicher and the 85th of the Marionette Theatre, the "World of the Marionettes" is opened in Hohensalzburg Fortress.
- Co-production with the Salzburg Landestheater of Janos' Josa with his Magic Fiddle, a musical fairy-tale for children, set to music by Wilfried Hiller
- Production of Ein Fall für Mozart (A case for Mozart): a narrator takes children through the five great Mozart operas.
- Numerous tours and guest performances, including USA, Argentina, Japan, Taiwan, Athens, Venice, Paris, England, Germany, Beirut Switzerland
- First participation the Salzburg Festival, in the Small Festival Hall: the marionettes join singers, actors chorus and orchestra in Carl Maria von Weber's opera Oberon.
- TV and video recording of the five great Mozart operas, in co-operation with 3sat and with Sir Peter Ustinov as narrator
- Co-production with the Salzburg Landestheater: Mozart's Entführung for children
- Première of Così fan tutte with staging by Götz Friedrich. Now the Salzburg marionettes have all five great Mozart operas in their repertoire.
- Première of The Tales of Hoffmann
- Production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
- Autumn guest performance in Paris
- Italy tour: including Piccolo Teatro in Milan, Teatro Malibran in Venice, in Florence, Rome and Naples
- Guest performance in Berlin
- Guest performances in Brussels and Luxembourg
- Besides the season in Salzburg and travel to France, Italy and Germany, the ZDF (second German TV) films the operas Mignon, The Bartered Bride and Der Waffenschmied (The Armourer) with the Salzburg marionettes.
- Guest performance at the International Festival in Hong Kong
- The Nutcracker is completely reworked as a full-length ballet and premièred at Christmas.
- 11 June 1977: Gala for Hermann Aicher's 75th birthday with President Dr. Rudolf Kirchschläger present. Hermann Aicher is awarded honorary citizenship of the Town of Salzburg.
- Hermann Aicher dies on 1 July.
- Gretl Aicher takes over the management of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
- New production of Mozart's La finta giardiniera. Première at the Mozart Week in January
- Guest performance in Spain
- Further 4-week guest performance in Sadlers Wells Theatre, London
- Then North America: Christmas season in the Lincoln Center, New York
- The Salzburg marionettes participate in the International Mozart Week held by the International Mozarteum Foundation. New production: Apollo et Hyazinthus
- After 25 years, a further guest performance in London: the marionettes perform for three weeks in the Sadlers Wells Theatre.
- This is followed by a season in the opera house in Piraeus/Athens.
- A documentary film on the history and development of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre is made, to mark its 60th anniversary.
- The Salzburg marionettes are to have a theatre of their own! The conversion of the former Hotel Mirabell, between the Mozarteum Foundation and the Salzburg Landestheater, makes it possible to equip a stage fully adapted to the requirements of puppetry.
- On 11 July 1971, the new theatre opens with Rossini's Barber of Seville.
- Guest performances in South Africa and in at the Adelaide Festival
- After return from the USA, a major tour in Italy with performances in the Piccola Scala in Milan and the Aula magna in Rome
- Guest performance in the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich
- Production of Mozart's Don Giovanni
- Festival performance in the famous Teatro la Fenice in Venice
- Guest performance at the Christmas Festival in New York.
- European tour
- Autumn 1964: guest performance in the USA and Canada
- On 26 May, the Salzburg marionettes open their season in the archdiocesan Kapitelsaal on the Kapitelplatz. The temporary premises, with workshops, tailoring workshop and extra rooms, are destined to remain their abode for the ensuing almost ten years.
- Guest performance at the Festival in Versailles
- The theatre in the Dreifaltigkeitsgasse is closed due to disrepair.
- Between international tours, the marionettes perform in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum in Salzburg.
- The decade of major tours begins, with guest performances in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The Salzburg marionettes start to work with tape-recordings instead of speakers, singers and musicians.
- Guest performance in Japan: the Salzburg marionettes open the first Osaka Festival with The Magic Flute, followed by performances in Tokyo.
- The marionettes perform at the May Festival in Ludwigsburg and at the Brussels World Fair.
- The marionettes perform a complete ballet: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Together with a new choreography for the "dying swan", this third major production premières in Montréal.
- Then the theatre travels through North and Central America to Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Cuba.
- A revolving stage is constructed for the production of the operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat), premièred in New York during the second USA tour.
- In the autumn, a five-year contract with America takes the marionettes overseas.
- Première of The Magic Flute in Boston – the first major opera on the marionette stage. The success is repeated everywhere, especially in New York. [The Magic Flute will remain almost unchanged in the repertoire, as the most-performed and most successful production in the history of the Salzburg marionettes.]
- An American film production company makes 12 fairy-tale colour films with the marionettes.
- Production of Mozart's The Magic Flute directed by Géza Rech, design by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, who will design every new production in the ensuing 40 years.
- Autumn: major England tour focusing on London
- Production of William Shakespeare's The Tempest
- Guest performance in Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, for officers of the British army
- Music manager Martin Taubmann takes charge of the Salzburg marionettes, and will make them world-famous over the next 33 years.
- Invitation to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris – the Salzburg marionettes give their first post-War German-language guest performance in France.
- Performances resume immediately after the end of the War.
- The first performance is given for American soldiers.
- Guest performances also in Innsbruck and Styria, for occupying French and British troops.
- The Salzburg marionettes are sent to the front – first to Norway, later to Poland, Russia and Romania.
- First major Balkan tour, to Athens, Sofia and Istanbul
- Guest performances in Holland and Belgium
- Repertoire expanded to include small Mozart operas
- Guest performances in Sweden
- First guest performance in Berlin in the course of a major tour in Germany
- The Salzburg marionettes are awarded the gold medal at the World Fair in Paris.
- For guest performances in Moscow and Leningrad the marionettes played to audiences of up to 2,500. For this they had to make a new travelling stage and marionettes of up to almost 1 m in height. A particular attraction was the "dying swan", with a marionette modelled on the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova.
- Despite great successes in Salzburg and on foreign tours, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre finds itself in financial straits. Since tours require not only puppeteers and technicians but also singers, musicians and conductors, they are not cost-covering.
- First guest performance by the Salzburg marionettes in the Hamburg Kunsthalle
- Anton Aicher's son Hermann marries the young soprano Elfriede Eschenlohr. As wedding present Anton hands over the management of the Theatre. Hermann uses his technical knowledge to renovate the stage, focusing primarily on the potential of lighting technology. He concentrates increasingly on the musical repertoire.
- Further operas are rehearsed in collaboration with teachers and students from the Mozarteum Academy.
- The beginning of World War I brings considerable problems for the Theatre. Despite the horror of the War, however, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre develops into a cultural focus in Salzburg.
- The Marionette Theatre expands its repertoire. Fairy-tales for children are rehearsed. The main characters in the more than 130 productions up to 1950 are Hans Wurst and Kasperl [roughly comparable to Harlequin and Mr Punch]. For the first time, the Marionette Theatre includes the oldest German puppet play, Doctor Johannis Faustus, in its repertoire, which in the summer of 1914 already comprises 14 works.
- On 27 February 1913, sculptor Professor Anton Aicher makes his début in Salzburg with his marionette theatre, performing Mozart's Bastien and Bastienne.
- In October 1913, Anton Aicher hires the gymnasium of the archiepiscopal Borromäum seminary and installs his Salzburger Marionette Theatre. This is to remain its home for the next 47 years.