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Božena Němcová Theatre

Artur Payer

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1808 | the oldest reference
The oldest reference about a theatre building is dated back to July 1808. This used to stand “against the present Spa I. and it was a component of a complex of the Social House as an economical building.“
(detail)1865 | construction

The city council passed a design for the construction of a new theatre in 1865. Important artists from Munich and Vienna were acquired for the project: Munich architect Heinrich von Hügel worked out the designs, Viennese architect E. Baldwein provided stage technology, Gilbert Lehner, the painter of Viennese Karlstheater provided scenery, local author Karl Brömse created wall paintings.


(detail)10.06.1868 | Opening

The actual construction works proceeded under the direction of local builder Karl Wiedermann. The ceremonial opening of the venue took place on 10th June 1868 by operetta Beautiful Galathea by Frantz Suppé.


(detail)20. 's 20. century | construction

The city council inclined to the idea of the construction of a new, modern cultural building due to initiative of hotelier F. J. Zienert and theatre director Fred Henning in the second half of the 1920s. Artur Payer designed the new building in such a way that it incorporated the older building.


(detail)16.06.1928 | opening

The designs were finished on 24th October 1927. The works, carried  out by the local building firm F.J. Prosch and Karel Prosh, began on 14th November 1927. The stage technology was provided by L. Kotulan from the German theatre in Prague, Adolf Mayerl participated on the decoration, so were August Brömse and Fabrizius, Köstler and Cheb  author Rief. The ceremonial opening on 16th June 1928 offered the operetta Die Fledermaus (the Bat)  by Strauss.


(detail)60. 's 20. century | reconstruction

Larger reconstruction works were carried out  in the building in the 1960s. An adaptation, later labelled as very inconvenient, affected the foyer and other social rooms.


(detail)00. 's 21. century | reconstruction

The first phase of the theatre reconstruction took place at the turn of 2008-09 concerning the theatre auditorium. The second phase of the reconstruction was carried out at the turn of 2009-10 , which was directed to the entrance hall, staircase and cafe.


People

Artur Payer |main architect
E. Baldwein |architect
(detail)Karl Wiedermann |builder

Local builder from Františkovy Lázně.  Among his works belongs presbytery of Catholic Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross or Neo Renaissance hotel Imperial in Františkovy Lázně (1878).


(detail)Gilbert Lehner |painter
Was a scenic artist and stage designer based primarily at the Burgtheater in Vienna.  A large number of his works are housed at the Austrian Theater Museum, Vienna (formerly Theater Collection of the Nationalbibliothek). According to the chronologies of the Burgtheater, Kätchen von Heilbron was not in repertory during Lehner's tenure at the Burgtheater.  It is possible he may have designed the production for another theater in Vienna. 

In: Fine Art

More theatres

Adolf Mayerl |sculptor

History

The constitution of a theatre stage in the charming spa town is undoubtedly related to  development and popularity of Františkovy Lázně healing spa.

The oldest reference about a theatre building in Františkovy Lázně comes from the pen of spa inspector Anton Musill from the July 1808. A request addressed  to Cheb magistrate speaks of the necessity of repairing the building facades- so called Booth. This used to stand “against the present Spa I. and it was a component of a complex of the Social House as an economical building.“1

The spa inspector at that time, count Münch-Bellinghausen put through its exemption from the complex and subsequent indispensable adaptation of the space. The result was not, however, much successful, the construction was labelled as „Theaterschupfe“ or „Comedienhaus“ and  failed to meet the standards. Perhaps the atmosphere is best depicted by the memory of contemporary spa doctor Pöschmann at best: “The present theatre is more repulsing than appealing for its unhealthy location, confined space and bad equipment. Also the actors troupes are of such a quality that they have caused rather a boring time than an enjoyment  for  the foreigners  used to  productions of a high quality.“2  The evaluation of the stable spa client, J.W. Goethe is carried in a much sharper tone. He made a note in his diaries after having seen the play Samson: “A kind of melodrama, disgusting in itself, performed even in a more disgusting manner. The actors played grotesquely. I could not hear a natural voice during the performance. The women were ugly.“3 

The operation of the venue corresponded to the seasonal rhythm of the spa town – the house returned to its original utilitarian function during  winter months and served as  a storage area of bottler.

The stage arrangement   and actual interpretation of  plays, again in an unflattering light, was noticed by baroness Marie Ebner von Eschenbach: “I was living and suffering in the theatre the second evening. A strange art institution. I have never seen anything only approximately similar. The stage lacks in height what could be ignored in width, a dwarf who performs had his hat got stuck, man of middle height reaches the ceiling by his head. The actors are audible, however, they cannot be seen talking. Drama artist from Františkovy Lázně Theatre lives, as it is proved, ten years longer than anyone of his colleagues, because the most exhausting part of his art – the pantomime- he do not have to bother to strive for it at all. I was silently watching this strange arrangement of this hide and seek play.“4 A provisional stage came into existence in the grand “Kursaal” in the middle of the 1850s on the occasion of a famous Spanish dancer performance.

The city council passed a proposal for the construction of a new theatre in 1865. The incentive and decisive impulse was the prohibition of further utilization of the existing building by Cheb magistrate. The locality behind the church in the park was being considered at the beginning, in the end the plot on the corner of Dr. Pohoreckého and  Ruská streets was selected. Important artists from Munich and Vienna were acquired for the project: Munich architect Heinrich von Hügel worked out the designs, Viennese architect E. Baldwein provided stage technology, Gilbert Lehner, the painter of Viennese Karlstheater provided scenery, local author Karl Brömse created wall paintings.

The actual construction works proceeded under the direction of local builder Karl Wiedermann. The ceremonial opening of the venue took place on 10th June 1868 by operetta Beautiful Galathea by Frantz Suppé.

The new, two storey building was of rectangular plan with outer “romantic and classicising” facade “ with colourfully united antique decorations.“5 It is possible to see it as a free quotation of Greek temple architecture. The architect used the motif of double  pilasters on the sides, the ground floor is broken by three entrances and central bay of the storey by niche with a sculpture of an antique goddess. Aedicula portico protruded precisely here, in the middle of the facade, in front of the building volume. The building was topped by a triangular gable. Auditorium with boxes in “traditional, feudal style6  offered space for 400 spectators.

The actual local ensemble of actors was probably of a good standard, because there were even operas and operettas on its repertoire apart comedies. A lot of artists from Prague and Vienna were giving  guest performances in the theatre.“7 The theatre was professionally conducted and as a component of the cure, artists and troupes for instance from Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Munich were performing here. The repertoire was satisfying surely the demanding spectator as well.“8

Even this building became obsolete in the course of the years and became insufficient spatially and technically. The city council inclined to the idea of the construction of a new, modern cultural building due to initiative of hotelier F. J. Zienert and theatre director Fred Henning in the second half of the 1920s after a period of hesitating and uncertainties. The plot remained the same, the architect – a professor of German Prague Technical School Artur Payer- designed the new building in such a way that it incorporated the older building. 9 The designs were finished on 24th October 1927, the actual construction works proceeded forward rapidly. The works, carried  out by the local building firm F.J. Prosch and Karel Prosh, began on 14th November 1927, height of the cornice was reached on the Christmas despite the unfavourable weather, it was being worked on the truss between 20th and 24th and in June, therefore after seven months, the building was being finished. The stage technology  was provided by L. Kotulan from the German theatre in Prague, Adolf Mayerl participated on the decoration (figural motifs), so were August Brömse and Fabrizius (paintings in the auditorium), Köstler (paintings in the stage part) and Cheb  author Rief (stuccoworks). The ceremonial opening on 16th June 1928 offered the opera Die Fledermaus (the Bat)  by Strauss. “sensitively arranged building with art relation to the classicist tradition of the spa created a new dominant by the entry into the park by Jitřní Street (dr. Pohoreckého).“10

We are informed about the arrangement and capacity of the auditorium from the text of the contract  dated by the year 1936. The total number of spectators did not surpass the number 616. 218 visitors could be  seated in the parterre, further there were 16 boxes each with four seats and 50 standing rooms. There could be 55 visitors seated in the dress circle on the balcony, eventually they could use 15 boxes  with four seats each. There were separated 49 seats on balcony, 40 in boxes and 80 standing rooms in the top tier of seats.

The hall could accommodate altogether 486 seated and 130 standing spectators.

In the course of the war, the theatre was united with the theatre in Cheb for some time under the joint label Vereinigte Stadttheater Eger – Franzensbad (United theatres Cheb – Františkovy Lázně).

We are not informed about any direct damages in the theatre during the Second World War. A list of damages was written at first in the relation with the stay of an American army unit in Františkovy Lázně in May of 1945; the building served for entertainment and culture life to soldiers. After their withdrawal, it was necessary to repair the auditorium and podium, staircase, outer lighting, electric and telephone wiring, damages of locks and doors, to glass windowpanes etc., apart the registration of irretrievably lost musical instruments and pieces of music (music sheets).

Newly established Spolek divadelních ochotníků Lucerna (Theatrical Company Lantern) in Františkovy Lázně performed its initial play Lantern by Alois Jirásek on the first day in June 1946. The troupe was rapidly entrenched and apart the unquestionable qualities it showed skill in administrative and organizational matters. It created its own programme content since 1948, provided all the technical issues, managed independently and the theatre building fell under its management. The independence of the troupe was confined in the second half of the 1950s, an array of initial members left, also the name of the troupe changed – it performed under the name Divadelní soubor Osvětové besedy – Theatrical ensemble of the Enlightenment club room. Larger reconstruction works were carried out  in the building in the 1960s. An adaptation, later labelled as very inconvenient, affected the foyer and other social rooms. The wiring in the auditorium was repaired at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s -  the exchange of distribution and circuit breaker to the main chandelier and the arms between boxes and were complemented by shadowing effect. It was followed by the replacement of a roof covering in the beginning of the 1980s – the building was newly roofed by copper plates.

The theatre was faced with  a new stone plinth at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. A repair project of heating and air conditioning came into existence in 1994, the construction works, spread into two phases, were finished in August of 1995. Interior painting took place in the same period, windows and doors were repainted, some of the carpets were replaced, laminate cladding was removed in the corridors and cafe, laminate cash desk was demounted in the entrance hall.

The original colourfulness of the facade was restored in 2004 –existing bright yellow was replaced by green, the windows acquired tone of bright beige.

The first phase of the theatre reconstruction took place at the turn of 2008-09 concerning the theatre auditorium with a replacement of seats, floors in the auditorium, carpets, the removal of “boards” between the rows in the first and second balcony and their substitute by tube handles, painting in auditorium and boxes, exchange of velvet  stuffing of armrests in balconies and boxes, the replacement of timber panelling in the ground floor of the auditorium and a repair of timber plinth under the stage and the construction of new removable wooden stairs to the stage and the carpet covering on the stage.

The second phase of the reconstruction occurred at the turn of 2009-10 , which was directed to the entrance hall, staircase and cafe including furniture, facing, curtains, carpets, painting etc. Attached carpet was removed from the staircase and granite staircase were set into original stage by sandblasting .“11

The theatre was originally named  Stadttheater. It appeared in equivalent translation as the City Theatre in Czech written texts since 1918. It kept this name up to 8th November 1962, when it was renamed to the Božena Němcová Theatre. The new name that should remind of the hundred anniversary of the author’s death  (21st January 1862) was a result of an opinion poll, which occurred in the periodic Culture Overview of the city.

Present state

The Božena Němcová Theatre is a detached building in the peripheral part of the city park. The main facade is opened to the crossing of two not very busy roads - Ruská and Dr. Pohoreckého streets. The remaining sides are surrounded by full-grown vegetation of the park especially during summer months.

The architect adopted building plan of  an oblong form, equally as the location from the older theatre building. His concept was, however, different; the original richness of outer facades was superseded by simplicity or even austerity. These were actually the elements, with which the theatre should impact, aesthetical effect should have not been caused by the  monumentality and pomposity.

The main facade, separated from the street by   accessing area, was designed by Payer as  five bays. The central part, uncommonly sunk in the volume of the front side, is dominated by the giant  pilaster order. The couple of outer pilasters articulates  the actual central part, another two then divide  the flat into three equal vertical fields. These are broken by an entrance in the ground floor and by elliptical windows on the sides. There are discharging arches of window openings and a small skylight window above the entrance door, on which consoles are mounted, carrying balcony landing of  polygonal plan. The balconies are accessed through high French windows, each inserted in one bay. The simple oblong windows, accentuated by frames and profiled cornice, were inserted at the top. The architect resigned on the gable; the elevation culminates in a wide entablature on the foursome of columns, a hip roof is laid on it.  

The lateral surfaces of the main facade are symmetrical. The ground floor is broken by an entrance between stone blocks which support a flat roof. Small dormers open above it. The entrance was executed similarly being inserted into the central bay. The storey is articulated by a vertically led band from four mutually interconnected oblong mirrors, respectively windows with tapered corners. Payr alternated here blank fields, provided with embossed capital – an actor theatrical mask- with window openings with a star grid. Vertical band is visually topped by a massive keystone inserted into the crowning cornice.

It is possible to relatively exactly determine the arrangement and location of individual inner operations by the look at the side facades. Polygonal staircase casing, lit by the triple of vertically sorted window openings, between which one field with a drama mask was inserted, juts out from massive frontage quadratic block (foyer) with bevelled corner edge. One window  bay broke always the facade on the sides of the casing. The architect inserted the adjacent auditorium part, imbedded between the entrance and stage block, into the three storeys by four window bays. He used here, similarly as in the previous block, two types of windows – with recessed corners and simple rectangular ones. A subtle cornice united the parapets of the windows openings, located at the top, the surface between them is decorated by mirrors with motifs of embossed heads. The crowning cornice was intersected by consoles of an egg shape. Above the ending of the stage part (with an operational background), there is a cubic fly tower looming, with one elevated storey lightweighted by three blank window bays. The tower is topped by a high hip roof with apical “dwarfish” lantern.

Payer repeated the motif of a polygonal staircase protruding from the building volume on the rear facade as well. The ground floor of the tube is broken by two entrances (they serve to the theatre staff) and by the square window, inserted between them. The storey part, accentuated by a strong  band cornice ( used in the whole width of the closing side ), is articulated by small cornices into the five horizontal strips – these are articulated by a triple of oblong windows in each second storey- a band  without decoration was inserted between them, respectively with fields with embossed relief heads. The casing is roofed by a compressed polygonal roof.  Extensive surfaces on the side of the staircases are articulated by oblong windows under the band cornice ( in two bays on the left and right from the tube) and by arrival gate on the left. Two bay windows are inserted above the cornice in two height levels (the windows openings closer to the staircase are narrower, united mutually by one parapet).

A stone plinth of variable height encircles the structure along the entire perimeter. The roofing of the entire building is hipped, individual small hip roofs came into existence above the lateral bays of the front facade.

Visitors use a couple of side entrances of the front facade for the entry into the building; the centrally located one serves as an advance booking office in the present days (after an adaptation). Small oblong rooms behind the doors lead to the vast hall – foyer. Two relatively deep niches were inserted between the entrance doors, a long wooden storage tray stands in front of them. So reserved area serves as a cloakroom – the walls of niches were panelled by shelves and hangers.

A spectator continues from the foyer either through opposite side staircases (well visible in polygonal casings on the outside of the building) into the upper floors, or, across several low stairs, through direct side corridors to the entrances to boxes. The parterre is accessed through distinctly projecting wide rectangular portal in the front of the foyer. The portal entablature carries the inscription the Main Hall.

Boxes type, initially designed by Payer, have remained up to nowadays, although it underwent an array of modifications -  the number of seats was adjusted, standing rooms were abandoned and so on. The guests can select from the places in the parterre, possibly from two rows of seats, complemented by front balconies.

The hall interior leaves an intimate atmosphere, at the same time we can feel the ceremonial character and a desire for representative tone.

The communication in the ground floor is provided by central aisle diverging in front of the first row of seats into the two arms, formed in sectors. A proscenium, broken in a polygonal mode, protrudes in front of a massive rectangular proscenium arch with recessed moulding, transformed into a moderately sunk, rectangular orchestra pit  when needed after the upper covering board is removed.

The portal beam is interrupted by a central relief with symbols of the drama art – a lyre, pipes and actor’s mask. The composition is complemented by stylized vegetal motifs on the sides.

Architect inserted the boxes along the circumference of the lateral sides alternating in the rhythm of simple and duplicated; he used the duplicated one for the corners. All the boxes are mutually connected by sharply rebated parapet.

Payer similarly shaped the first and second rows of seats. Only the corner boxes were replaced by the entrances, bringing the audience to the balcony, inserted in the entire width of the hall. Four semicircular arched openings were inserted in the flat above the rear seats, in the first row of seats – boxes N. 6 and 7,  a wide five bay, by a stylized arch closed window opening in the second row of seats, there is a technical background for lighting and sound engineers above it.

The author interestingly worked with funicular arches of individual cubicles, respectively with entrances onto balconies. He created an original solution for each floor – the lowest laid box is topped by a segmental arch, this one is, however, articulated into regular rectangular, to the top recessing sectors. By the middle storey, he applied a  funicular arch, which is “depressed” in the  vertex, thereby emerged a very rounded, outstretched letter “M”. And he used a funicular arch in the shape of “small curtain”  in the last row of seats.

The ceiling articulation received almost ornamental form. The central elliptic field, broken only by suspension of the chandelier, is flanked  rhomboid frames, lined up into the oval, of ventilating grids. Warm shades  in a combination with white, sandy-yellow and golden are complemented by red colour, selected for  textile supplements – covering of seat stuffing, carpets, facing of the inner sides and parapets of the boxes and galleries.

The architect moderately worked with decoration motives –  he applied elements of relief triangles with curved corners onto   box parapets, rectangles appeared by balconies. The front side of the consoles was articulated by deep cuts resembling miniature diamond arches with the light impact and balcony and boxes parapets were “girded” by vertically led, strongly stylized vegetal stalk. The execution completely corresponds to specific vocabulary of geometrization, used in the entire hall -  for instance polygonal plans of boxes, cubist like consoles under landings, keystones under balconies, sharply curved edges of parapets etc.

The refreshment is provided by elegantly arranged buffet (cafe) in the first floor. A room was established in the frontage between the lateral staircases, the light is conducted here  by  high French  windows, through which it is possible to enter on the balcony on the front facade. Equally situated area in one storey higher is used for presentation of art pieces ( mainly child authors).

Notes:                               

1   Stanislav Macek, Františkovy Lázně: Historie města, Františkovy Lázně s. d. [1995], s. 63.

2   Tamtéž.

3   Historie divadla, http://www.divadlofl.org/ (vyhledáno 18. 6. 2010).

4   Viz pozn. 1.

5   Das Stadttheater, in Lorenz Schreiner (Hrsg.), Kunst in Eger: Stadt und Land, München 1992, s. 552.

6   Tamtéž.

7   Viz pozn. 1.

8   Viz pozn. 3.

9   Stalo se tak z důvodů úspor finančních i časových. Zdi staré budovy vymezily prostor jeviště.

10 Viz pozn. 1.

11 E-mail PhDr. Reginy Talafantové, ředitelky Městského kulturního střediska Františkovy Lázně, z 22. 11. 2010.

Sources and literature:

– Státní okresní archiv Cheb, fond 167 (kartony 204, 386, 366, 387, 366, 170) a fond 284 (karton N 39 a N 78)

– Městský úřad ve Františkových Lázních, Odbor stavební a životního prostředí, archiv

– Městské muzeum ve Františkových Lázních (obrazová dokumentace)

– Jiří Cingroš, 60 let divadelního souboru ve Františkových Lázních, Františkovy Lázně 2006

– Stanislav Macek, Františkovy Lázně: Historie města, Františkovy Lázně s. d. [1995]

– Das Stadttheater a Das neue Stadttheater, in Lorenz Schreiner (Hrsg.), Kunst in Eger: Stadt und Land, München 1992, s. 552–553 a 573–574

– Alois John, Franzensbader Stadttheater: Festschrift zum 60 jährigen Jubileum des Franzensbader Stadttheater, 1928. Uloženo v Okresním archivu v Chebu, Fond 167, karton 386, složka č.1670

– internetové stránky Divadlo Boženy Němcové Františkovy Lázně – http://www.divadlofl.org/ (vyhledáno 18. 6. 2010)

 

Tags: detached building, Interwar period, Neoclassicism

 

Author: Kateřina Kohoutkova - Gabrhelíková

Translator: Jan Purkert

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