National Marionette Theater Review: Title Character Flashes His Wood in Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’By James Monroe Števko
Making your way to an evening at the opera, you pass through Prague’s medieval, cobblestone streets. In the distance, sets the orange, Bohemian sun behind the black silhouette of Prague Castle. Now descending into a cellar, you’ll find yourself in the theater lobby, packing your hands with Czech beer and awaiting the opening notes of the longest running production of “Don Giovanni” you’ve probably never heard of.
How much fun could 90 minutes of stringed puppets actually be, you ask? Well, The National Marionette Theater in Prague, with a cast of 6 puppeteers, perform a rousing adaptation of Mozart’s comic tragedy to a recording of Drottingholm Theater on superb speakers.
Entering the pit to take his bow is the composer himself, Mozart. This overture is a slapstick routine itself and sets the tone for the gags of the night on this miniature stage. The opera, as written, is already a vehicle for laughs, despite its tragic ending, but this talented cast of hand-wrought lumber reaches a level of comedy unreachable by the flesh.
Leporello, with a head of wood and a flapping jaw, makes a fool beside the towering and handsome Don Giovanni, hung…. like a string puppet.
Donna Anna wafts her flaxen hair, a match to her birch colored face in contrast to Donna Elvira’s ebony hair against a veneer of ponderosa pine of stick-like proportions.
With hands reaching down from the heavens, the marionettes walk, gallop, talk and fight, with nimble choreography from up above. The puppet masters switch back and forth, exchanging one puppet for another ensuring every character receives their cameo.
The evening is rife with a shocking number of genius special effects, including incredible feats of airborne flight and exposure to the elements. Even some nudity ensues during Leporello’s catalog aria and later when Don Giovanni drops his bath towel!
Marionettes, whose history is immortalized throughout Europe in multiple marionette museums, transport you into simpler times. Prague, a city preserved with an astounding amount of medieval architecture, is the perfect backdrop for this peak into the past of this long lost art form.
To avoid revealing too much, the details of this rollicking performance will remain under wraps, for the readers to carve out themselves on their next trip to Prague, as the production is ongoing.
Even with brief, vintage human nudity, Don Giovanni at the Marionette Theater is a delight for adults and children alike and may even be the perfect introduction to opera for your theater-challenged friends. Grab some Czech pivo and a program in your language to familiarize yourself with Mozart’s popular work and chuckle through this perfect kick-off for a night out in Prague’s legendary Old Town.