The magical world of Mozart puppet theater

Pianist Katie Mahan backstage at the Salzburger Marionettentheater with Executive Director Philippe Brunner.

Mozart is a billion-dollar industry in Salzburg, Austria, the composer's hometown. Tourists line up to see Mozart's birthplace, to buy Mozart Kugeln chocolate and to attend Mozart dinner balls. But one place tourists should not skip over, according to pianist Katie Mahan, is the Salzburger Marionettentheater, otherwise known as the "puppets of Mozart."

The theater stages full-length operas by Mozart using their hand-carved marionettes. The puppets are brought to life by marionettists who train for six to eight years to master the art of moving the many strings of each puppet. In addition, they have to know the musical score inside and out.

Mahan says the productions are high art and that you quickly forget you're watching puppets. "The puppets are so well made. Their faces are so beautifully carved — they look like little tiny individuals. And then when you see them move and see them animated, you can easily get lost in this little fairytale world."

The Salzburger Marionettentheater was founded in 1913 by Professor Anton Aicher and remained in his family for three generations. The troop has performed all over the world, including Carnegie Hall, and has collaborated with major artists like soprano Cecilia Bartoli and tenor Jonas Kaufmann.

In the week's episode of Mozart Snapshots, Katie takes us inside the theater and backstage for a conversation with the theater's artistic director, Philippe Brunner. Prepare to be charmed.