Theater an der Wien

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Theater an der Wien, 1815
Entrance wing facing Naschmarkt, redesigned in 2006
Papageno Gate in Millöckergasse
Stained glass window by Carl Geyling's Erben, made around 1900 for the theatre

The Theater an der Wien is a historic theatre in Vienna located on the Left Wienzeile in the Mariahilf district. Completed in 1801, the theatre has hosted the premieres of many celebrated works of theatre, opera, and symphonic music. Since 2006, it has served primarily as an opera house, hosting its own company.

Although "Wien" is German for "Vienna", the "Wien" in the name of the theatre is actually the name of the Wien River, which once flowed by the theatre site; "an der Wien" means "on the banks of the Wien". In modern times, the river has been covered over in this location and the covered riverbed now houses the Naschmarkt, an open-air market.

Origins[edit]

Theater an der Wien inside

The theatre was the brainchild of the Viennese theatrical impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, who is best known as Mozart's librettist and collaborator on the opera The Magic Flute (1791). Schikaneder's troupe had already been successfully performing for several years in Vienna in the smaller Theater auf der Wieden and this is where The Magic Flute had premiered. As the troupe's performances often emphasized spectacle and scenery, the librettist felt ready to move to a larger and better equipped venue.[1]

He had already been granted an imperial licence to build a new theatre in 1786, but it was only in 1798 that he felt ready to act on this authorization. The building was designed by the architect Franz Jäger in Empire style (it has since been remodeled). Construction was completed in 1801. The theatre has been described as "the most lavishly equipped and one of the largest theatres of its age.".[2]

The theatre opened on 13 June 1801 with a prologue written by Schikaneder followed by a performance of the opera Alexander by Franz Teyber. The new theatre proved to be a sensation. Adolf Bäurle, a local critic, wrote "if Schikaneder and [his partner] Zitterbarth had had the idea ... to charge admission simply for looking at the glories of their Theater an der Wien, Schikaneder would certainly have been able to take in vast sums of money without giving one single performance." The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung called it the "most comfortable and satisfactory in the whole of Germany" (which meant at the time, "all German-speaking lands").[3]

In 1807 the theatre was acquired by a group of court nobles that included Count Ferdinand Palffy von Erdöd, who bought it outright in 1813. During the period of his proprietorship, which lasted until 1826, he offered opera and ballet and, to appeal to a wider Viennese audience, popular pantomime and variety acts, losing money in elaborate spectacles until finally he was forced to sell the theatre at auction in 1826.

Only a part of the original building is preserved: the Papagenotor (Papageno Gate) is a memorial to Schikaneder, who is depicted playing the role of Papageno in The Magic Flute, a role he wrote for himself to perform. He is accompanied by the Three Boys, characters in the same opera.

Premieres at the theatre[edit]

The Theater an der Wien has seen the premieres of many works by celebrated composers and playwrights. It was a particularly favorite venue for Ludwig van Beethoven, who actually lived in rooms inside the theatre, at Schikaneder's invitation, during part of the period he was composing his opera Fidelio.

Works of Beethoven[edit]

The Beethoven memorial displayed on the exterior wall of the theatre. The text reads, "Ludwig van Beethoven lived in the Theater an der Wien in 1803 and 1804. Parts of his opera, the Third Symphony, and the Kreutzer Sonata were written here. Fidelio and other works received their first performance in this house."

Other premieres[edit]

Later history[edit]

The Theater an der Wien during the period it emphasized Broadway musicals. The Broadway-style marquee was demolished in 2005.

The theatre experienced a golden age during the flourishing of Viennese operetta, as referenced in the latter items in the above list of premieres.

From 1945 to 1955, it was one of the temporary homes of the Vienna State Opera, whose own building had been destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. However, in 1955, the theatre was closed for safety reasons. It languished unused for several years, and by the early 1960s, the threat had emerged that it would be converted to a parking garage. (This was the same era of "urban renewal" that in America nearly destroyed Carnegie Hall).

Fortunately, in 1962 the theatre found a new and successful role for itself as a venue for contemporary musical theatre. Many English-language musicals had their German premieres there. In 1992, the musical Elisabeth (about Franz Joseph I of Austria's wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sissi), premiered there. The musical Cats directed and choreographed by Gillian Lynne played successfully for seven years.

Despite its focus on operettas and musicals, the theatre still served as a venue for occasional opera productions, especially during the Vienna Festival seasons, and sometimes co-produced with the Vienna State Opera. Notable productions of the non-standard repertory were Lulu (1962; conducted by Karl Böhm, staged by Otto Schenk, designed by Caspar Neher, starring Evelyn Lear); Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice (1967; conducted by Richard Bonynge, staged by Rudolf Hartmann, with Nicolai Gedda, Joan Sutherland); Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1971; conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, staged by Federik Mirdita); La clemenza di Tito (1976; conducted by Julius Rudel, staged by Mirdita, with Werner Hollweg, Teresa Berganza, Arleen Augér, Edda Moser), Fierrabras (1988; conducted by Claudio Abbado, staged by Ruth Berghaus, with Thomas Hampson, Karita Mattila, László Polgár); and the world premiere of Adriana Hölszky's Die Wände (1995; conducted by Ulf Schirmer, staged by Hans Neuenfels). Between 1996 and 2002, Riccardo Muti conducted new productions of the three da Ponte operas of Mozart, based on an original production by Giorgio Strehler).

Theater an der Wien today[edit]

In 2006, the 250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth, the Theater an der Wien presented a series of major Mozart operas, thus initiating its conversion to a full-time venue for opera and other forms of classical music under the direction of Roland Geyer. The first opera to be given was Mozart's Idomeneo with Neil Shicoff in the title role and Peter Schneider conducting the new production by Willy Decker. Other members of the cast were Angelika Kirchschlager, Genia Kühmeier, and Barbara Frittoli.

Geyer is quoted as saying that he wishes to "present cutting edge directors and interesting productions",[5] and his three main areas of focus are on Baroque opera, contemporary opera, and Mozart.

In recent years, the theatre's seasons have included the following works outside the standard repertoire:

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Braunbehrens 1990,[page needed]
  2. ^ Peter Branscombe and David J. Buch, "Emanuel Schikaneder" in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (subscription required)
  3. ^ Honolka 1990, p. 187
  4. ^ Eric Bromberger, program notes for a performance of Schubert's work by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, 12 November 2007
  5. ^ Anne Midgette, "In Mozart's Backyard, A Fraught Rebirth of an Opera House", The New York Times, 26 November 2006
  6. ^ The Theatre's programme announcement
  7. ^ Matthew Gurewitsch, "Classical Music: Vienna's New Opera House Since 1801", The New York Times, 29 May 2009

Sources

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°11′57″N 16°21′49″E / 48.19917°N 16.36361°E / 48.19917; 16.36361