Peter Zadek

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Peter Zadek
Born (1926-05-19)19 May 1926
Berlin, Germany
Died 30 July 2009(2009-07-30) (aged 83)
Hamburg, Germany
Spouse(s) Brigitta Blumenthal

Peter Zadek (German pronunciation: [ˈtsaːdɛk]; 19 May 1926 – 30 July 2009) was a German theatre and film director, play translator and screenwriter and is regarded as one of the greatest directors in German-speaking theater. He was the head of the Schauspielhaus Bochum, Bochum (1972–1979), the head of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg (1985–1989) and the Berliner Ensemble from 1992 to 1996. He was chosen "Director of the year" by Theater Heute magazine on numerous occasions.[citation needed]


Peter Zadek was born on 19 May 1926[1][2][3] to a Jewish family in Berlin. In 1934, he emigrated with his family to London where he later studied at Old Vic theatre, after a year at Oxford University.[4]

He began in weekly rep in Swansea and Pontypridd. He studied at the Old Vic, and his first productions included Oscar Wilde’s Salome and T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes. Zadek caused a stir in London in the late 1950s with his productions of works by Jean Genet. Indeed, Genet was so outraged by Zadek's world première of The Balcony at the Arts in 1957 that he apparently bought a gun with the intention of shooting his director.[4] He also worked as a director for the BBC in this period.

Returning to Germany in 1958, Zadek worked in the theatre in Bremen from 1962 to 1968. In 1969, he directed the film I'm an Elephant, Madame. It was entered into the 19th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won a Silver Bear award.[5]

He headed up such major German theaters as the Schauspielhaus Bochum (1972–1979), where he paved the career of two German artists, first Herbert Grönemeyer, today one of the most popular Singer-songwriter’s, who was his musical director then (1976) and also an actor in roles, such as the Till Eulenspiegel or Melchior in Frank Wedekind’s Frühlings Erwachen,[6] and secondly Natias Neutert, who thereby became famous as a so called One-Mensch-Theater (in German Ein-Mensch-Theater).[7] Zadek was head of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg (1985–1989), he became co-director of the Berliner Ensemble from 1992 to 1996 and was also a member of the German Academy of the Arts (since 1991).

In 1992, Zadek was appointed as one of the heads of the Berliner Ensemble, the theater founded by Bertolt Brecht. After German reunification the Senate of Berlin appointed a "collective" of five stage directors to serve as Intendanten (General Administrators): Peter Zadek, Peter Palitzsch (1918–2004),[8] Heiner Müller, Fritz Marquardt and Matthias Langhoff. In this former East German theater Zadek was the director who represented the West. Indeed, he brought with him an international team that formed a "Western invasion" which revived the Berliner Ensemble. In addition to bringing great actors such as Gert Voss and Eva Mattes, Zadek brought in young protégé stage directors such as British director Rosee Riggs and also appointed renowned American Berlin-based conductor Alexander Frey as Music Director of the theater. Frey was the first American to hold any position at the Berliner Ensemble, as well as being the theatre’s first non-German Music Director; his historic predecessors include the composers Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Paul Dessau-all of whom worked under Brecht.

Zadek was renowned for productions of Shakespeare's plays and for sparking a greater interest in English drama among German audiences. In 1999 in Vienna, he directed Hamlet with a woman in the title role. His staging of The Merchant of Venice in the 1960s was set in the financial district of London, and in 1994 his brilliant direction of Anthony and Cleopatra combined World War I England and ancient Egypt. This production won the Critics' Prize of the Edinburgh International Festival.

Zadek and his partner, Elisabeth Plessen, have translated many of Shakespeare's works into German for the theater as well as works of Pinter and Chekhov, among others.

The director also worked at the Burgtheater in Vienna, where he staged The Merchant of Venice, starring Gert Voss, Eva Mattes and Paulus Manker.

Zadek directed his first opera, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, in 1983. He also directed Kurt Weill's opera, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) at the Salzburg Festival in 1998.

Despite suffering from an illness, Zadek continued working in his later years. In 2008, he staged Luigi Pirandello's "Naked" at the St. Pauli Theater in Hamburg.

Zadek's last production was Shaw's Major Barbara, performed at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich in February 2009.

Following Zadek's death, Brtitish critic Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian:

"Zadek was mercurial, intuitive, even populist in his approach – and the results were sometimes astonishing. Four of his shows came to the Edinburgh International festival and he always made you re-assess a play. I recall a modern-dress Merchant of Venice in which Gert Voss's assimilated Shylock, even after his humiliation in the trial scene, coolly strolled off stage as if preparing to phone his broker. In 2004, Zadek also brought us a brilliantly witty, ironic Peer Gynt: one that suggested Ibsen anticipated Strindbergian dream-drama, Brechtian expressionism, the madhouse world of the Marat/Sade and even modern physical theatre."[9]

Billington also wrote in the same article:

"Although Zadek made his name in Germany, he never forgot his British roots. When I went to see his Berlin production of Pinter's Moonlight, he told me that he loved Pinter's work because of its origins in weekly rep and because, as he said, "it was like a combination of Agatha Christie and Kafka". But Zadek also understood Pinter's play profoundly: rarely have I seen Pinter's idea that women possess an emotional awareness denied to men so vividly expressed."[9]

He acted in a small role in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (Veronika Voss, 1982).[10]

He died in Hamburg.[11] He is survived by his two children, Simon Zadek and Michele Zadek-Ewing



  1. ^ "Zadek Peter". WIEM Encyclopedia (in Polish). Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  2. ^ "Zadek Peter". Internetowa encyklopedia PWN (in Polish). Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  3. ^ "Peter Zadek". Centre for Translation and Textual Studies. Archived from the original on September 26, 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  4. ^ a b Hugh Rorrison "Peter Zadek", The Guardian, 3 August 2009
  5. ^ "Berlinale 1969: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  6. ^ "Über Schröder kann man nicht singen". Zeit-Online. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  7. ^ cf. DIE ZEIT, No. 32. 4 August 1978.
  8. ^ Hugh Rorrison Obituary: Peter Palitzsch, The Guardian, 28 December 2004
  9. ^ a b Michael Billington "Peter Zadek's death is a loss to all European theatre", The Guardian (blog entry), 3 August 2009
  10. ^
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ XI Europe Theatre Prize / Reasons Europe Theatre Prize

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