A charming rarity, a Baroque puppet opera

In a bawdy spectacle-in-miniature, the Carter Family Marionettes liven up the first opera written by a woman.
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The mermaid and the princess in <i>The Liberation of Ruggiero from the Island of Alcina</i>.

In a bawdy spectacle-in-miniature, the Carter Family Marionettes liven up the first opera written by a woman.

The Northwest Puppet Theater is performing a rare and extraordinary piece of Baroque theater at their charming little venue at 9123 15th Ave N.E. in Seattle. The Liberation of Ruggiero from the Island of Alcina is an opera, written around 1525 by Francesca Caccini, for the Medici court to celebrate the visit of the Prince of Poland. This is the first opera known to be written by a woman, and it is based, as many operas were, on Ariosto's epic poem, Orlando Furioso. It is recognized as a seminal work of opera with highly developed arias, duos, trios, a chorus, and sophisticated dramatic musical forms. The real rarity is to see the opera performed by puppets, which creates a kind of "total theater," blending live music, poetry, dance, puppets, and lyrical singing into a two-hour spectacle-in-miniature. The whole family will enjoy it, though its charming, bawdy humor makes it not recommended for children under 10. Most of the bawdiness comes from the irascible Commedia dell'arte character Policinella, a lusty scoundrel interpolated with great success into the intricate plot. Think Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont. The many roles are sung in Italian (with clear supertitles at the edge of the stage) by four professional opera singers accompanied by an excellent chamber quartet of equally skilled local professional musicians and directed by the invaluable Margriet Tindemans. In the preview I attended, they were having a delightful time supporting the fantastic array of characters which include Neptune, enchanted trees, serpents, warriors, lovers, an army of monsters, and a seductress attempting to lure Orlando to his demise. It's all presented with the usual adept puppetry that the Carter Family Marionettes are known for, with Christine, Stephen, and Dimitri Carter pulling all those strings. This company of devoted artists, with their vast collection of classic puppets, is truly one of our local national treasures. They are devoted to an ancient art of theater and are highly accomplished at crafting and performing these classics in their own theater, an intimate converted Lutheran church in the pleasant Maple Leaf neighborhood. It runs weekends through April 29, with tickets at $20-$25.


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