World-renown marionette troupe to stage 'Sound of Music' with 'nuance and delicacy'

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 2:00 p.m. MDT

The Salzburg Marionette Theatre will be staging its production of The Sound of Music at BYU.

Courtesy BYU’s Bravo! Performing Arts

PROVO — A galaxy of Broadway veterans will sing “The Sound of Music” on BYU’s deJong Concert Hall stage — including Christiane Noll as governess Maria Rainer, Martin Vidnovic as Captain Georg von Trapp and Jonathan Groff as eldest son Friedrich (“I’m 14. I’m impossible!”).

The three Tony-nominated stage veterans will voice the beloved characters, but the performers selected for the Bravo! Performing Arts production will “offer more stage action than human singing actors do.”

“Their mouths may not open, their hands may not move,” yet the onstage performers “create much nuance and delicacy of expression,” according to a Los Angeles Times reviewer following a previous performance.

The actors — slightly over 2 feet tall — will be marionettes, under direction of Austria’s world-renown Salzburg Marionette Theatre.

“The ephemeral nature of live theatrical performance is exactly what makes these performances this weekend so special and unique,” said Jeffrey Martin, producer of the concert series who invited the troupe to perform. “Watching the master puppeteers of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre right here in Provo may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

For more than 100 years, the marionettes have been wowing audiences by enacting operas, including Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and a compressed version of Wagner’s epic “The Ring of the Nibelung, and more popular fare. Along with a production based on the Broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the company will present “Hansel and Gretel,” based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale with music by Engelbert Humperdinck.

“There is perhaps no better way to experience the charm of ‘The Sound of Music’ and the classic ‘Hansel and Gretel’ than through the unique lens and intricate artistry of one of the world’s most time-honored puppet companies,” Martin explained.

“As you might expect, these performances didn’t come about by chance. Bringing a company of this size, stature and repute — along with all of their 24-inch friends — halfway across the world takes a great deal of planning and patience,” he added. “But as with so many other things in life, good things really do come to those who wait. I have no doubt you will find great pleasure in joining us here as the company makes its BYU debut at last."

There are puppets animated by a rod or with projected images seen as shadows, but marionettes are distinguished by being controlled on strings from above the stage.

The company began in the home of Anton Aicher, a professor of sculpture who decided he wanted to entertain some friends. His early audiences were so enthralled with the life-like marionettes that public performances were initiated, beginning with Mozart’s opera “Bastien und Bastienne” in 1913. Aicher’s younger son, Hermann, ran the theater for more than half a century. At his death in 1977, his daughter Gretl assumed control.

During World War II, the company was instructed to make tours to the front and performed in German-occupied Norway, Poland, Russia and Romania.

Viewers familiar with “The Sound of Music” film may wonder how the Salzburg marionettes perform to “The Lonely Goatherd” song, in which Julie Andrews and the child actors playing the von Trapp children present a marionette performance for their father and his guests. Without giving away a surprise, the scene is included in the production, and it’s another of the company’s inventive touches.

If you go...

What: Salzburg Marionette Theatre

Where: BYU’s deJong Concert Hall

When: “Sound of Music” Friday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; “Hansel and Gretel” Saturday, Nov. 2, at 10 a.m.

How much: $10-$25

Tickets: byuarts.com/tickets or 801-422-2981

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