Thursday, July 14, 2011

Opera + Puppets = A Unique Attraction

Next week I am departing for Italy, home of some of the world's best and most famous Operas. 

So it's a funny coincidence that I just became aware of an unusual, 50-year-old opera theater, unique in the entire world, right in my own back yard.

While visiting a local Performing Arts Center for a Business Meeting, I picked up an Arts brochure and found a listing for Opera in Focus.  I had never heard of this theater, located just "next door" in the suburb of Rolling Meadows, Illinois.  I looked at the web site (click here for the performance repertoire), and found that it is an intricate puppetry performance, in which scenes from famous operas are carefully staged and delicately perfomed by special artists using specially-designed puppets that apparently don't exist anywhere else in the world.

And tonight, a local PBS program called Chicago Tonight offered a wonderful segment about this amazing and little-known art. 

William B. Fosser, who founded the theater in 1950, was a movie art director and set decorator, with films like "Home Alone", "Backdraft" and "Ordinary People" among his credits.  As a youngster he developed fascination with opera and obsession with puppetry.

Soon he developed intricate rod-puppets with such amazing detail of design and movement, that it remains one-of-a-kind in the world. 

Fosser, who died in 2006, expressed a wish that the puppets be destroyed if the theater ever closed down. His apprentices, Justin and Shayne Snyder, who joined Fosser in the early 1980's and now operate the 60-seat basement theater in a nondescript building of the Rolling Meadows Park District, admit that they could never destroy these amazing puppet-"performers".  So they hope to keep the tradition, and the theater, alive.

I can't believe I have missed this!  But I will rectify that life-error very soon.

Check out this extraordinary 9-minute video, which I found unexpectedly moving.  I'll be attending my first performance, after I return from the opera capital of the world. 

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