Theater an der Wien
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.
Originally, the "an der Wien" in the name of the theatre referred not to city's name but rather to the Wien River (Wienfluss), with the theatre located on the bank of that river. In modern times, the river has been covered over in this location and the covered riverbed now houses the Naschmarkt, an open-air market.
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 in 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.
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.".
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").
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
The Theater an der Wien has seen the premieres of many works by celebrated composers and playwrights.
- 1804 (November 10) Die Neger, the last opera composed by Antonio Salieri
- 1805 (November 20) Ludwig van Beethoven's opera Fidelio. Beethoven actually lived in rooms inside the theatre, at Schikaneder's invitation, during part of the period of composition.
- Other Beethoven premieres:
- 1817 Die Ahnfrau by Franz Grillparzer
- 1823 Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus), a play by Helmina von Chézy. According to one critic, "dreadful beyond imagination"  and utterly forgotten today, except for the incidental music by Franz Schubert
- 1844 (April 9) Der Zerrissene (de) by Johann Nestroy
- 1874 (April 5) Die Fledermaus by the younger Johann Strauss
- 1882 (December 6) Der Bettelstudent by Carl Millöcker
- 1885 (October 24) The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss II
- 1891 (January 10) Der Vogelhändler by Carl Zeller
- 1898 (January 5) Der Opernball by Richard Heuberger
- 1905 (December 30) The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár
- 1908 (November 14) The Chocolate Soldier by Oscar Straus
- 1909 (November 12) Der Graf von Luxemburg by Franz Lehár
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).
The Theater an der Wien today
In 2006, the 250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth, the Theater an der Wien presented a series of major Mozart operas. This initiated 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.
In recent years, the theatre's seasons have included the following works outside the standard repertoire:
- Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande conducted by Bertrand de Billy
- Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice conducted by René Jacobs
- Georg Friedrich Händel:
- Joseph Haydn: Orlando Paladino; conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, staged by Keith Warner
- Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking, conducted by Sian Edwards, staged by Nikolaus Lehnhoff
- Leoš Janáček: Káťa Kabanová, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, staging by Keith Warner
- Federico Moreno Torroba: Luisa Fernanda, conducted by Josep Caballé-Domenech, staged by Emilio Sagi
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
- Francis Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites; conducted by Bertrand de Billy, staged by Robert Carsen
- André Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire, conducted by Sian Edwards, staged by Stein Winge
- Richard Strauss: Intermezzo conducted by Kirill Petrenko
- Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
- Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz, conducted by Bertrand de Billy, staged by Stefan Ruzowitzky
- Braunbehrens 1990, p. ??
- [author missing], "Emanuel Schikaneder" in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians
- Honolka 1990, p. 187
- Eric Bromberger, program notes for a performance of Schubert's work by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, 12 November 2007
- Anne Midgette, "In Mozart's Backyard, A Fraught Rebirth of an Opera House", The New York Times, 26 November 2006
- The Theatre's programme announcement
- Matthew Gurewitsch, "Classical Music: Vienna’s New Opera House Since 1801", The New York Times, 29 May 2009
- Braunbehrens, Volkmar (1990) Mozart in Vienna. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
- Kurt Honolka (de) (1990) Papageno: Emanuel Schikaneder, Man of the Theater in Mozart's Time. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-931340-21-7.
- Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, online edition. Copyright 2008, Oxford University Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Theater an der Wien.|
- Official website of the opera house (in English)
- Andreas Praefcke's "Carthalia" site, entry for "Theater an der Wien". Pictures of both exterior and interior in the form of postcards, as well as a long list of premieres. The image labeled "Millöckergasse entrance" shows the Papageno gate with the memorial to Schikaneder.
- Event listings in English from bachtrack.com
- Matthew Gurewitsch, "Classical Music: Vienna’s New Opera House Since 1801", The New York Times, May 29, 2009