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Home > Museum > Passports: New Arrivals from the World of Puppetry

Notes by Bradford Clark, Curator

Henry Higgins


Unknown Artist of the Kungsholm Opera
American, c1960s; rod puppet
Gift of Nancy Staub

Puppetry, opera and musical theatre have shared a long history together. Complementing the more extravagant and expensive live opera companies, the marionette theatre offers lavish spectacles on a smaller scale. 

In the early 20th century, rod puppetry also found its way onto the opera stage of Chicago. Ernest Wolf, a teenaged opera lover, worked with his mother Esther T. Wolff and others to develop a type of rod puppet capable of head movement and expressive arm gestures. The Wolff’s’ patented rod puppets, operated from below the stage, provided performers with a very different quality of movement than the more common string puppets. Ernest Wolff would appear at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as director of the Victor Opera Theatre, then tour widely with his puppet opera productions.

Chicago’s famous Kungsholm Puppet Opera Theatre utilized rod puppets based upon the Wolff designs.  In later years, in addition to operas, the Kungsholm would later offer excerpts from popular Broadway musicals, including My Fair Lady, in which our figure performed.

The Wolff design patent

The Kungsholm Opera in Popular Mechanics

Documentary on Opera in Focus – founded by Bill Fosser, former artistic director of the Kungsholm Opera, and using his rod puppets that evolved from the Wolff designs

Excerpt from Opera in Focus’ Rigoletto

Center for Puppetry Arts catalog page

2012-13 Season sponsored in part by:

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