The problem with having a summer birthday means birthday-trips come at a time when lots of concert halls and opera houses are closed for the summer (except the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, where top classes performances carry on through the summer. And let’s not forget the BBC Proms). We had this problem last year with a double-birthday trip to Vienna – early July seems to offer only naff Mozartian-costumed orchestras and morning organ recitals. Nein, danke.
We did find one possibility though – one of our group was in Vienna studying for a PhD, looking into Puppet opera. We decided to join her for a visit to the Schönbrunn Marionette Theatre for a family performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. So instead of seeing people dressed up in Mozartian costumes, we saw a puppet dressed up as Mozart himself, acting as a narrator (we figured seeing puppets “perform” an entire opera might be a bit much – this was an abridged version) along to a recording of the opera.
According to the Visit Vienna website:
The Marionette Theatre at Schönbrunn Palace has continued an old puppet play tradition since 1994: In honour of the visit by the Prince-Archbishop of Trier, Clemens Wenzel of Saxony, the Marionette Theatre gave Prince Esterházy an acclaimed performance of “Alceste” (based on the opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck) in July 1777. This was followed by the construction of a Marionette Theatre in Schönbrunn.
The puppeteering itself was very impressive, but I’m not going to lie – it was a strange experience. I suppose The Magic Flute is suited to it, because it’s such an unreal plot (and the puppets can fight a giant snake and fly more easily than a real human). But it is odd to see wooden figures gesticulating along to the Queen of the Night aria or Papageno’s song. I did enjoy it though, and it was nice to see something musical in a different way.
However one aspect that made the whole thing all the more unbelievable was that the puppets were all white European, EXCEPT for the Monostatos puppet (i.e. the main “baddie” in the opera) which was ‘Moorish’ (I use that particular word because I think it was supposed to be a period piece). I know in Mozart’s time it was ‘different times’ and it was acceptable (I assume there are multiple books written about race in Mozart’s works) but now it just feels uncomfortable. It’s a conscious choice, right? They’ve painted their puppets that way and dressed them in those costumes. It was made all the more bizarre by Monostatos having three little mini-me helpers. I appreciate that Austria is a conservative country but I was still taken aback.
Schönbrunn is an enormous beautiful palace, built in the 17th century and lived in by the Habsburgs. A theatre was built here in 1747 for opera performances, and Mozart gave a concert in the palace as a six-year-old child prodigy. Nowadays, the Vienna Philharmonic play their Summer Nights concerts in the grounds, and the palace itself is one of Vienna’s top tourist attractions.
We didn’t go inside but did enjoy a walk in the grounds, whilst we attempted to get the tunes from the Magic Flute out of our heads (spoiler alert: we didn’t. For the whole week).
Theater an der Wien was where The Magic Flute was premiered in 1791. Beethoven lived here in 1803-04 (as written in the plaque on the left) and numerous pieces of his were premiered here including his Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto.
It’s in the centre of Vienna, not far from the Naschmarkt where we had a delicious falafel lunch. Again, we didn’t go in, but hung around outside to see the Papageno Gate. It’s a memorial to Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto for The Magic Flute and originated the role of Papageno, the bird collector.
BONUS FACT: I have had the Papageno/Papagena duet in my head the whole time I’ve been writing this.
Pins on this map
- Schönbrunn Marionette theatre
- Theater an der Wien