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Large Choral Works to be staged with Puppets

I am looking for repertoire ideas for amature SATB chorus, professional soloists, instrumental ensemble and professional puppet theater company.  We would like to collaborate and create a performance art work by combining chorus and puppets.  I need ideas of large choral works, or sets of smaller ones that would allow us to either tell a story with puppets or do abstract movement. These can include operas with large choral presence, oratorios, children's works etc.  Details:
1. chorus would sing from behind a scrim / screen.  Puppets would be in front of screen in full view of audience.
2. Could include orchestra and soloists.
To give you an idea of my thinking here are some sample ideas: Amahl and the Night Visitors, Dido and Aneaus (Purcell) and Venus and Adonis (Blow).  Most of these do not work because of the limited choral parts.  Themes could include fairy tales, mythical creatures, vaudeville type stories etc.  
What I need are ideas of specific repertoire that would fit this setting.  
Thank you!
Andrew Brown
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on November 24, 2013 8:21am
Hello Andrew,  Two years ago I saw a stunning performance of "the Nightingale"  by  Stravinsky at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.   It was sung with professional singers and orchestra, but there were pupeteers handling puppets and even a moat for the boat where the orchestra pit was.  THis production was geared to adults and it was very moving.  
How about Cunning little Vixen?   Janacek  opera.  Most operas have limited roles for large chorus, so you may need to think oratorio
Jura Litchfield
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 9:06am
How about Britten’s Noye's Fludde?
Hope this helps,
Robert A.M. Ross
robertamross(a) <Robert Ross 11>
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 12:09pm
Menotti's "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore."
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 24, 2013 1:15pm
   You've probably thought of this--  Search the internet for puppet companies and their productions.  If you use "puppets" and "chorus" in your search, you'll come up with a lot of Metallica references, but I tried "puppet theater with choir" and found several YouTube videos, mostly of puppets singing as a choir.
   Also, it might help to search specific types of puppets: marionettes, shadow, rod, hand; also street theater.  
   You could contact puppet companies directly for suggestions:  Bread and Puppet in VT and Spiral Q in Philadelphia are two I've heard about, plus two others in Syracuse and Phoenix whose exact names I can't recall; probably there are puppet theaters in every major city.
   What about a production like opera workshop concerts, where they put on a series of unrelated, single arias along with the costumes, scenery and simplified staging.  Instead of arias, you could use a series of choral highlights from various choral and dramatic works, like those sample ideas you mentioned.  They could be unrelated, or loosely relate to a theme like water, springtime, love, or conflict.
   Sounds like a wonderful idea, and I wish I could see and hear it!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2013 6:26pm
Consider Noah Greenberg’s edition of the medieval drama, “Play of Daniel” with narration by W.H. Auden and published by Oxford (1959).  I’ve always wanted to do this one with very large puppets but life is too short to do everything…
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 9:28am
Hello Andrew,
I have had a thirty-year relationship with Bread & Puppet Theater in Vermont.
In that time they have staged puppet shows using Bach's Cantata #100, Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn (solo voice and orchestra), and Monteverdi’s L'Orfeo.
They stage large Death and Resurrection pageants using early American Sacred Harp (shapenote) music.   One of the Bach Passions could be very dramatic with puppets.
Often the chorus would interact in simple ways with the puppets.   At the beginning of their pageants the chorus of about 120 would stand in a circle around a 50-foot high puppet of the "God Head."   They would circle around the puppet singing, then with a simple flash all run away in many directions.   These were staged outside.   Many of their evening outdoor puppet shows would end with the burning of a huge puppet.   
With a children's chorus I once staged a puppet version of the Papagemo/Papagina duet near the end of Mozart's Magic Flute.   There are choral sections in the Magic Flute that would work wonderfully with puppets (check out how Ingmar Bergman used puppets in his movie version of the Magic Flute - masterful and fun).
When people think puppets, they usually think of the fast moving Punch & Judy models.   But Bread & Puppet stages their puppets large and small moving slowly and majestically.   In their resurrection stagings, a large puppet on a cross-representing Jesus would be carried slowly to the grave as the chorus sang.   Once in the grave, the puppeteers would suddenly pull on strings and the puppet would soar high into the sky.   Very few of their puppets hang on strings.   Most are held by a puppeteer who is visible to the audience.   Their puppets range in size from a few inches to the length of a football field.  Julie Taymor used her experience working with Bread & Puppet as well as Indonesian puppet traditions when she staged the Lion King on Broadway.   
Nick Page
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 25, 2013 2:50pm
I also worked with Bread and Puppet many years ago and remember doing Carissimi's Jeptha, Carmina Burana,  Jesu Mein Freude, and Mozart Requiem (indoors) with Peter Schumann's puppet design and staging.   One that comes to mind that could be very effective dramatically (and exciting for the chorus and you!) is Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 3, 2013 9:46am
Speaking of people who worked with Bread and Puppet, have you seen Julie Taymore's tv puppet version of Oedepus Rex?
And Amy Trumpeter, a longtime veteran of B&P, staged a wonderful Barber of Seville with multiple Figaro puppets at BAM in Brooklyn. The singers stood on the side of the stage and sung from there with the puppets taking front stage.
Another beautiful Peter Schumann production was an original giant puppet version of Joan of Arc, accompanied by a chorus (probably Word of Mouth) singing a mass--I think by Josquin.
I also worked with Bread and Puppet and some of its offshoots. I wrote one of my earliest compositions, Kriah, for chorus and giant puppets, a sort of pagent telling the story Demeter and Persephone. Another of my works for giant puppets and chorus with soloists is Enough is Enough, a puppet opera based on the fairy tale Godfather Death.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 11:50am
Hi, Andrew -- someone mentioned Menotti's The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore. As a commission for a concert where this was going to be performed, I wrote a setting of James Thurber's Fable for our Time "The Unicorn in the Garden." It's a VERY funny text, was a great success at its premiere, and would work well for puppets, I think. More info available at:
All best,
Jonathan Santore
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 25, 2013 1:17pm
Ravel: L'enfent et les sortileges
Menotti: The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore
Britten: St. Nicholas (cantata)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 1, 2013 11:10am
Hello again Andrew,
   I forgot to mention Cashore Marionettes.  You might get some ideas from the videos at his website.  Joseph Cashore works alone, giving solo performances using one puppet at a time.  Hiis shows consist of several unrelated pieces of a few minutes in length, each based on a person or animal's situation in life.  They are beautiful, simple, profound and expertly done, each set to an appropriate selection of (mostly) classical instrumental music.  Unfortunately, the videos on the website are not shown with their corresponding music, but they convey his approach and artistry. 
   The Jim Henson Foundation (Muppets founder) promotes puppetry for adult audiences, and may be a resource.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 2, 2013 9:21am
Here in Atlanta there is a tradition for "The Play of Herod" each year, and the puppets are larger-than-life, similar to some of the Bread and Puppet theatre's.
I would look at Stephen Schwartz's "Children of Eden".  The writing is a bit more chorally-sophisticated than "Godspell" [ I have not seen "Wicked" in its entirety. ] The chorus tells much of the story - they could be on risers, at the side, on a set, leveled above,   - or all of that, and more! - and you could combine live characters and puppets.  There are a lot of varied creative and meaningful ways to stage this production.  The fact that S. Schwartz is so well-known could help your tecket sales/audience growth.
The stories are Biblical (Creation/Adam & Eve/ Noah's Ark), but the intent is to show how we deal with cyclical family issues, generation after generation.  God is always called/referred to as "Father".  When He makes a rare physical appearance to Cain and Abel, they begin asking whether they will be taken back to Eden, or punished.  Father responds matter-of-factly, "I just came to see my grandchildren."
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 3, 2014 9:04am
Hello All,
Thank you for the many amazing ideas.  You all have given me a lot of avenues to explore.  Happy New Year!
Andrew Brown
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