Summer residence of Prince Nikolaus I of Eszterházy with a marionette theatre. The Eszterháza (Esterháza) Palace, located to the south-east of Lake Neusiedl in present day Hungary, rapidly became an important centre for artistic productions with performances of opera , theatre, concerts and also string puppet shows. In 1772, Nikolaus I bought the theatre and the puppets from Karl Michael Joseph von Pauersbach (1737-1802) and made a special building to house them. And it was the composer, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), who had entered the prince’s service in 1761 and there had access to a private orchestra and a group of singers, who composed the music for the puppet performances.
Philemon und Baucis was the first puppet production performed in 1773 to commemorate the visit of the Empress Maria Theresa to the Eszterháza Palace. Performances were few until about 1776. They included Haydn’s Hexenschabbes (The Witches’ Sabbath) in 1773, Alceste of Karl von Ordoñez in 1775. Pauersbach, the director of the theatre from 1776 to 1778, considerably enriched the repertoire, creating several new plays. Didone abbandonata (Dido Abandoned, 1776), Demofoonte (Demophon, 1776), Genovevens (the first three acts, 1776), La fée Urgèle, ou Ce qui plaît aux dames (The Fairy Urgèle, or What Pleases Women, 1776), are amongst the twelve pieces he wrote for the puppets. It is not quite certain whether they were all written for the opera, but some were perhaps plays with musical interludes by Haydn.
The great fire of 1779 at the Eszterháza Palace destroyed innumerable scores and librettos written by Haydn. And the Palace lost its cultural role on the death of Prince Nikolaus I in 1790. His successor, Anton Eszterházy, dismissed the musicians and other theatre staff; the sets, costumes, and accessories were sent off to the Eisenstadt Palace. In 1799, the Countess Klutschesky bought the famous puppets and what remained of the theatre. Some of the puppet operas were later performed at other princely courts and one hopes that some day the librettos will be recovered. Many of Haydn’s scores are today housed in the Library in Vienna and also in the Eisenstadt Archives and in Budapest.
- Barbaud, Pierre. Haydn. “Solfèges” series. Paris: Le Seuil, 1957.
- Graschitz, Horst. Haydn und Eisenstadt [Haydn and Eisenstadt]. Eisenstadt: Nentwich, 1982.
- Robbins Landon, H.C. Haydn’s Marionette Operas and the Repertoire of the Marionette Theatre at Estherháza Castle. In The Haydn Yearbook. University Edition, 1962, pp. 111-200.