Master Peter's Puppet Show  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Master Peter's Puppet Show (El retablo de Maese Pedro) is a puppet-opera in one act with a prologue and epilogue, composed by Manuel de Falla to a Spanish libretto based on an episode from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The libretto is a faithful adaptation of the Cervantes' text, from Chapter 26 of the second part of Don Quixote, with some words edited. Falla composed this opera "in devoted homage to the glory of Miguel de Cervantes" and dedicated it to the Princess de Polignac, who commissioned the work. Because of its brief length by operatic standards (30 minutes), it is not part of the standard operatic repertoire in the West.

Otto Mayer-Serra has described this opera as a work where Falla reached beyond "Andalusianism" for his immediate musical influence and colour and began the transition into the "Hispanic neo-classicism" of his later works.

Performance History

In 1919 Winnaretta Singer, aka la Princesse Edmond de Polignac, commissioned Falla a piece that could be played in her salon, at her own elaborate puppet theater. (Her other commissions included Igor Stravinsky's Renard and Erik Satie's Socrate, although neither of those works had its premiere in her private theater.) The work was completed in 1923. Falla decided to set an episode from Cervantes' Don Quixote which actually depicts a puppet play. He wrote his own libretto, cutting and splicing from chapters 25 and 26 of Part II. It is based on the episode in Don Quixote in which the protagonist watches a puppet show and gets so drawn into the action that he seeks to rescue the damsel in distress, only to destroy poor Master Peter's puppet theater in the process.

Falla's original plan for the Princess's theater was a two-tiered, play-within-a-play approach - large puppets representing Quixote, Master Peter, and the others in attendance, and small figures for Master Peter's puppets. The three singers would be with the orchestra in the pit, rather than onstage. After a concert performance cum dress rehearsal in Seville in March 1923, that is how it was performed with the Princess's puppets in the music room of her Paris estate in June that year, with Vladimir Golschmann conducting. Hector Dufranne sang Quixote, Wanda Landowska played the harpsichord (Falla composed his Harpsichord Concerto for her in appreciation), Ricardo Viñes and Emilio Pujol were among the artists and musicians serving as stage hands. Also at the premiere was Francis Poulenc, who met Landowska for the first time; she asked him to write a harspichord concerto for her, and his Concert champêtre was the result.


Seville concert premiere (World premiere)

Paris staged premiere (World staged premiere)

Sets and puppets by Hermenegildo Lanz, Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, José Viñes Roda and Hernando Viñes. Staging under the direction of Manuel de Falla.

The premiere was attended by the poets, musicians and painters who comprised the exclusive court of the Princess de Polignac. Five days later, Corpus Barga published a report in El Sol with verbal portraits of some of those present: Paul Valery , " the poet of the day, making gestures like a shipwrecked man drowning in the waves of feminine shoulders'; Stravinsky, "a mouse among the cats " and Pablo Picasso "in evening dress, and mobbed by everybody , [who] seems as though he is resting in a corner with his hat pulled down over one eyebrow ", and the artist José Maria Sert.

Later performances

Falla went on to tour the piece quite successfully throughout Spain with the Orquesta Bética, a chamber orchestra he had founded in 1922. Master Peter's Puppet Show was a great success for Falla, with performances and new productions all over Europe within a few years of the premiere. In 1926 the Opéra Comique in Paris celebrated Falla's 50th birthday with a program consisting of La Vida Breve, El Amor Brujo, and Master Peter's Puppet Show. That performance used new designs by Falla's close friend, the artist Ignacio Zuloaga, and new marionettes carved by Zuloaga's brother-in-law, Maxime Dethomas. For this production singers and extras replaced the large puppets, and Falla and Zuloaga took part personally, with Zuloaga playing Sancho Panza and de Falla playing the innkeeper. Later performances have frequently used singers and actors to replace the large puppets. José Carreras made his operatic debut at age 11 as the boy narrator, Trujamán, in a 1958 production conducted by José Iturbi at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Master Peter's Puppet Show" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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