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Portraits

The Magical World of Anna Travaglia

The Salzburg Marionette Theater definitely has more than its fair share of magic floating in the air. Beautifully handcrafted figures come to life, spiriting audiences away to a fascinating world in miniature. Anna Travaglia “pulls the strings”, so to speak, and her personal enthusiasm is absolutely infectious!

Anna Travaglia’s passion for puppetry has been pumping through her veins since she was a tiny tot in her own right: As a child, she and her family would put on shows using hand puppets. When she turned 18, Anna headed off to Venice with plans to study theater history and art. During those studies, she often attended performances at puppet theaters, and it didn’t take long for her to find her way back to her true love, marionettes. One day, quite by chance, she overheard a Salzburg journalist sitting one row back praising the Salzburg Marionette Theater (which, incidentally, has been on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2016). Anna was inspired and immediately got down to brass tacks, applying to join them in Salzburg.

Where and how did you learn puppetry?

The Salzburg Marionette Theater, where else?! It’s virtually like a training academy: You know you have talent, but you still have to begin at square one and learn from colleagues who have way more experience than you do. Puppets are different wherever you go, and every theater has its own techniques. In Salzburg, for example, we use a triangular hand-control for the head and a separate rod for moving the hands. I also attended the Ernst Busch School in Berlin for 3 months, where they have a separate school of puppetry.

Do you have a favorite marionette?

[laughs] I think we all have our favorites. Personally, my passion is for animals, so I have a real weakness for one little owl we use in “Snow White”. But I have to say, I also find our puppet of Pamina truly magical and mysterious.

Does puppetry present any unusual challenges?

Negotiating your relationship with your fellow puppeteers takes time. But when you have managed to do that, it can become very exciting. It’s in the nature of a marionette theater that everybody has to stand really close to one another. Which means, you are literally and figuratively in the other person’s “space”. But once you have overcome those natural boundaries, the familiarity you establish is something very special. For me, it’s also fascinating to find the perfect balance between gesture and dance. And it’s not just about keeping your mind in the game and having perfect technique – in fact, what really counts is the emotional aspect! And when, during the performance, you make a personal connection with the other puppets and your colleagues, everything becomes even more magical.

Do you have a favorite piece, and is there one show that’s an absolute must for any Salzburg visitor?

“The Magic Flute” always touches me, but if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to say that “The Nutcracker” does, too! The bottom line, of course, is that music and puppets are a can’t-miss combination. That said, I always keep an eye on my audiences and the kind of people they are, constantly changing and adding little nuances, and seeing how they react. Oh, and another recommendation of mine would definitely have to be “The Sound of Music”.

As for the special charm of the Marionette Theater, obviously audiences sense that immediately in the baroque auditorium. But is that something you feel behind the scenes as well?

Absolutely! In fact, we always invite our guests to come take a look backstage. Even during the performance, just because it gives you a whole new perspective. We move around back there like a bunch of crazy people, though you do develop an instinctive rhythm, with everyone knowing exactly what they need to do. When there is a big “clunker”, which happens on occasion, it can interrupt the flow. The art, of course, is getting back into sync as quickly as possible.

What do you most like about Salzburg?

The surroundings. I so love the mountains. I spent a lot of time up there as a kid and I’m very much a mountain person. Salzburg is quite a small town, but that means you tend to bump into friends and acquaintances more frequently than you probably would elsewhere. And that makes the whole atmosphere warmer, more intimate. Almost as if we are just one big family.

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