Salzburg Marionette Theatre performs classic tales with puppets

The Salzburg Marionette Theatre returns to the Phillips Center for performances of “The Magic Flute,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Sound of Music” and other classic stories Tuesday through Nov. 29.

Courtesy of Salzburg Marionette
Published: Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 12:34 p.m.

One hundred years ago, crowds in Austria were wowed by the meticulously carved faces and intricately tailored costumes of the puppets in the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. Today, the theater company tours throughout Europe, Asia and America with their time-honored traditional art. Next week, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre will perform five pieces at the Phillips Center.


Salzburg Marionette Theatre

What: Austrian puppet theatre tours in celebration of its 100th anniversary
When: “The Magic Flute” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, “Hansel and Gretel” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, “The Sound of Music” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, “Alice in Wonderland” at 2 p.m. Friday and “Ring Cycle” at 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road
Tickets: $25, $15 for children, $10 for UF students
Info: 392-2787,

Operas and musicals to be performed include Mozart's “The Magic Flute” on Tuesday, Engelbert Humperdinck's “Hansel and Gretel” and Rodgers and Hammerstein's “The Sound of Music” in separate performances Wednesday, and Lewis Carroll's “Alice in Wonderland” and Richard Wagner's “Ring Cycle” in separate performances Friday.

University of Florida Performing Arts Director Michael Blachly said these diverse pieces will offer something for everyone.

“The different performances we have give about as wide a reach as we could hope for,” he says. “We have a way of reaching the broadest audience possible.”

Philippe Brunner, a puppeteer who has been with the theater for 10 years, says each performance will feature 40 to 80 puppets. When a character needs a costume change, a new puppet must be built because of the amount of strings attached. The company's theater in Austria is home to some 500 puppets.

A team of 10 puppeteers and one sound and light engineer work tirelessly at each performance. Brunner says the connection between puppeteer and puppet runs deep.

“We build all the puppets and make the costumes. We're there from the creation process,” he says. “You put your own soul into the puppets. All the emotions we feed through the strings — it's something very special.”

The Salzburg Marionette Theatre has visited Gainesville once in the past — in November of 2007, the company performed at what is now the Squitieri Studio Theatre. This time, they're on a bigger stage. Or at least their stage will be on a bigger stage.

Brunner says audiences will forget that the puppets are acting on their own little stage. This won't be true for performances of Wagner's “Ring Cycle,” however — live actors will interact with the puppets and narrate the action.

“This art has a lot to do with illusion,” he says. “When you see the puppets, you think they are bigger than they are. Your eye adapts to the little stage.”

As Blachly puts it, “The stage creates a sense of spectacle and a sense of intimacy.”

He says over the past 100 years, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre has maintained the integrity of this traditional art form while modernizing its methods and techniques, all while traveling the world and toting 4 to 5 tons of gear.

“It's like watching living history,” he says. “This art lives in the contemporary world but has a traditional foundation.”

The company traces its origins to the sculptor Anton Aicher, who performed Mozart's “Bastien und Bastienne” in 1913 to adoring Salzburg audiences. It has performed the same version of Mozart's “The Magic Flute” since at least 1952, yet it consistently adds to its repertoire. The version of “Alice in Wonderland” Gainesville audiences will see premiered this September.

Brunner says this group of performances will interest all ages, but they will especially appeal to the child in all of us.

“We hope they are mesmerized and that they come back to their own childhood,” he says. “They'll see or hear something, and it'll take them back to those memories.”

“The Magic Flute” will be performed Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday's performances are “Hansel and Gretel” at 2 p.m. and “The Sound of Music” at 7:30 p.m. On Friday, “Alice in Wonderland” begins at 2 p.m. and “Ring Cycle” begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children and $10 with a UF ID. For more information, call the Phillips Center box office at 392-2787.

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