18 hands move from a hidden place above the stage of the puppet theater in Salzburg, Austria to breathe life into the characters in front of the audience, known as puppet theater opera, an art form more than 100 years old. A great magic, and a skill that takes years of practice to acquire. .
Pulling the strings “from two meters above the stage” is Edward Funk, with his round glasses, thin mustache and tousled hair.
Funk developed an interest in the behind-the-scenes world of performances from his childhood in Paris, and he loves the technique invented 110 years ago by Austrian sculptor Anton Escher, founder of the magnificent Salzburg Theater, where he produced Mozart in 1913. The first full-length opera using marionettes, the technique and artistic tradition are now included in the UNESCO heritage list.
The First World War did not stop the work of the theater group. In 1926, Escher handed over the management of the theater to his son Hermann. 1927 also saw the company’s first tour to Hamburg, Germany. This tour started a tradition that continues today.
But the art of puppetry has been around since ancient times, as puppets have been used since ancient times to represent and express the ideas and feelings of human societies, as evidenced in Asian civilizations and ancient Egypt and Greece. The Arab world in the Middle Ages, especially in the 14th century.
Art of puppetry
And Funk, 34, compared the art of moving puppets to “playing a musical instrument,” adding that “the musician doesn’t think about the strings of his instrument when he plays” and knows the notes to play. On the puppet stage, the movements of the characters are more precise, and the emotions are tangible.
In their work, the puppeteers use a device in the shape of a small cross in one hand, which enables the characters to “kiss or hug”, which is “not always possible with other techniques”.
It takes years to fully master this art, some complex characters can have dozens of threads and require around 5 experts to move them.
Puppeteers are also their makers, as they dedicate hours a day to these wooden creatures in hundreds of workshops before going to the theater hall to move them during performances.
Wooden puppets are carved, painted and dressed by artists. They represent characters from well-known stories, including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Little Prince,” and “The Magic Flute,” or are inspired by musicals.
Edward Funk, a costume designer and proud member of the team, said it was an “extraordinary career”.
People are tired of the virtual world
In recent years, 19 resident theater audiences have grown, and Funk concludes that people are “tired of the virtual world” and are interested again in “what can be touched, heard and seen.”
“This art is amazing,” says 79-year-old Elsie Labegler, who has attended the theater since childhood. Today, he is eager to introduce it to his grandchildren.
“I love puppets, the beauty of their movements and whether they’re a ballerina, a dragon or a Casperal,” she added.
Since 1961, the tradition of puppetry, known in many countries for thousands of years, has become a global festival in Charleville-Méziers, in the Ardennes region of northeastern France. But the competition didn’t bother Austria.
According to Funk, “it’s hard to compete with a century-old institution,” Mozart’s birthplace Salzburg’s City Theater, which is the only theater dedicated to staging puppet plays.
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