Adapting a piece – whether play, fairy-tale, musical or opera – for the marionette stage requires a great deal of work and creativity. A performance which is to hold the audience spellbound makes specific demands on the preparation of an appropriate version, on the technical department, the singers and speakers, and of course on the craftspeople and the puppeteers.
Steps in adapting a piece for the marionette stage
When the work has been chosen, the artistic director, stage director and set designer have to familiarise themselves with the peculiarities of the marionettes and the stage. The ensuing months are devoted to detailed discussion of the staging concept, working out a version suited to marionettes, and deciding on the personality of each character. A suitable recording of the music must also be chosen, or the possibility considered of using live music. The designer then sketches the stage-sets and the costumes. On the basis of further drawings, the sculptor carves the heads and assembles the bodies. Did you know that the marionettes are carved from lime? It's a soft, light wood, which facilitates the work of the sculptors and the puppeteers. Gradually, the figures make their way into the theatre workshops, where they are painted and fitted with costumes. In the final phase, their strings are attached and their mobility is tested. The stage-sets and properties are also made in the theatre workshops and tried out on the stage itself until they fit perfectly.
Two years of preparation – and we have our hands full
The Salzburg Marionette Theatre is renowned for the technical perfection and faithful detail of its costumes and sets. Preparations usually take about 1½–2 years before the start of rehearsals, for which 5–6 weeks are allowed. At rehearsals, the director sits at the edge of the stage and communicates directly with the puppeteers, establishing the presentation and movements of the characters. Even the movements of the puppeteers behind the stage and each minute technical operation have to be co-ordinated with utmost precision, since the puppeteers, who are in a very confined space, also move the sets and the properties. The sound-track produced by the sound engineer on the basis of the stage version is once more adjusted to the requirements of the theatre, or if live music is used, then rehearsals are held with the musicians. During the final days of rehearsal, the plan is fixed for the lighting, which – besides the specific rules of perspective and the essential proportions of properties to marionettes – is the most important element on the marionette stage in creating a perfect illusion for the audience.
In June 2023, a new production will be staged at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre in which three musical animal stories will be told by three different artistic teams: That of the little elephant Babar, who flees to a city and becomes fascinated by human life; that of the young bull Ferdinand, who has other preferences than his fighting peers; and Saint-Saëns' famous Carnival of the Animals in a poetic reinterpretation.
In co-production with the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre is preparing an innovative new production for the Mozart Week 2023. Based on a contemporary and socially prominent topic (environment, urbanisation), a new story is developed, which is enriched as a Pasticcio or Singspiel with new arrangements of Mozart's music. For the first time, the design of the marionettes, the costumes and the stage set will be created entirely by the staff of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
Concept, direction: Paul SchweinesterMusical arrangements, musical direction: Tscho TheissingConcept, dramaturgy: Philippe Brunner
The new production of Ludwig van Beethoven's opera Fidelio
was commissioned by the Beethoven Festival in Bonn to mark the anniversary year 2020. In 2017, Nike Wagner (former intendant of the Beethoven Festival) had invited the Salzburg Marionette Theatre to mount a production of Fidelio for performance at the festival marking Beethoven's 250th birthday.
The choice of stage director for the performance on the stage of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre fell once more on Thomas Reichert, who has been closely associated with the Theatre since 2006:
After the stage director was appointed, during the ensuing two years – 2018 and 2019 – a new text version of the dialogue was prepared, appropriate cuts made in the music recording, a new recording of the dialogue spoken by actors, and the dramaturgical sequence of scenes aligned with the original.
Concurrently, the workshops were busy creating figures according to large proportion drawings by costume designer Kerstin Griesshaber. The first heads were carved and the necessary steps taken to implement the stage set.
When the bodies of the marionettes were finished, they were fitted with costumes in the theatre's tailoring workshop and with shoes made in the properties department. The final step was to attach the strings, before the marionettes were tried out on stage at a first rehearsal.
The Salzburg Marionette Theatre performs this new production on its bare touring stage. The wide, modern space resulting from the enlarged stage area provides the perfect setting for this distinctive production. A special feature: the puppeteers – normally hidden from view – are partly visible, making for a poignant, expressive and incredibly powerful theatrical experience.
After the première at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn, the production was presented to large audiences in Brussels and Darmstadt. The pandemic having prevented the Austrian première in 2021, the opening performance of Thomas Reichert's clear, puristic Fidelio was postponed until spring 2022.