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State Opera

Hermann Helmer, Ferdinand Fellner

alias Smetana's Theatre (1949-1992),Theatre of the 5th May (1945-46),Great Opera of the May 5th (1947-1949),Deutsches Opernhaus (1939-1945),Neues deutsches Theater (1888- 1939)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1882 | Architectural design

Viennese company Fellner und Helmer worked out architectural design with cooperation of Karl Hasenauer, the architect of the Burgtheater.


(detail)29.3.1886 | construction
Construction works were initiated on 29.3.1886 and carried out by Alfons Wertmüller.
(detail)5.1.1888 | Inauguration performance

The ceremonial opening took place with a performance of the Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Mastersingers of Nuremberg) by Richard Wagner.


(detail)1973 | Overhaul

In 1967-1973, the general reconstruction was carried out according the design by Karel Prager and Jiří  Albrecht.


(detail)2002 | New curtain

People

(detail)Hermann Helmer |main architect
The phenomenon of the architects Fellner and Helmer would be difficult to capture with only one building. Their work consisted of continual, although somewhat stereotypical, work in terms of style. They placed a great emphasis on achieving the technical-operational needs of theatre buildings. They created a large number of theatres (mainly national theatres) in Central Europe - Austria, Croatia, Romania, the Czech Republic, etc.More theatres

(detail)Karel Prager |architect

The initial phase of his work was still influenced by the Socialist Realism. The interest in new world wide tendencies in building led him towards patterns of late Functionalism ( the so called International Style), especially to American realizations by the SOM and Miese van der Rohe. Prager was the first one, who used hanging glass walls on the facades in an aluminium grid as in the Institute of macromolecular chemistry ČSAV. He was also discovering and designing new building constructions and materials, often even untested before (the building of the Federal Assembly) for his other buildings. The architecture of his pieces is usually  innovative, but sometimes controversial as for instance the New Stage of the National Theatre).

Text: ing arch Kamil Dvořák, DrSc, in: Architekti v českých zemích (Prostor – AD)

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(detail)Alfons Wertmüller |architect

Builder and architect in Prague.

In:  Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 710, Praha 2004.


(detail)Eduard Felix Veith |painter

He belongs among representatives of Realism of the end of 19th century. It is possible to find his frescoes or paintings in Bucharest, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, but in Ostrava, Prague, Łańcut, Brno and Nový Jičín as well. He created a painted curtain and eight ceiling paintings in Prague German Theatre (today’s State opera). He also participated on interior decoration of theatres in Ostrava, Brno, Berlin, Vienna or Prague Rudolfinum.

In: http://www.amaterskedivadlo.cz/main.php?data=opona&id=151

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(detail)Antonín Střížek |painter
Painter, author of curtain (2002).

(detail)Theodor Friedl |sculptor

Sculptor, author of original decoration in Prague State Opera.

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Otto Mentzel |sculptor
(detail)Ladislav Vacek |interior designer

Author of iron curtain.


Ladislav Vrátník |interior designer
(detail)Oswald Thun-Hohenstein |Contractor
First chairman of Theaterverein (Theatre association).

History

The theatre stands on the site of the Novoměstské divadlo (New City Theatre) which existed from the year 1859 and was built according to a project by Josef Niklas (1817–1877). This consisted of a planned design to the building designated primarily for summer operations, eventually serving these purposes for over twenty years. The passing of time, however, took its toll on the light wood structure of the building and after a series of theatre fires the obvious safety problems began to become an issue. Consequently, in 1882 a decision was made to bring the operations to a close. The German majority in the state assembly approved a plan to construct a brickwork building for the needs of the German theatre life on the site of the Novoměstské divadlo and called upon the renowned Vienna architectural office of Fellner & Helmer to prepare the project. That same year, however, the ethnic make-up of the land assembly changed and the plans for building a German theatre under the supervision of the assembly fell through. The Prague German community, consequently, decided to construct the theatre from their own resources. They established a theatre association (theatreverein) for this purpose on the 4th of February 1883 at whose head Count Oswald Thun-Hohenstein was elected. The old Novoměstské divadlo was still made use of up until the end of the summer season of the year 1885. Over the course of the following year, however, the association's preparatory work progressed to such an extent that the Prague builder Alfons Wertmüller was able to initiate the digging work on the foundations of the new building as early as the 29th of March 1886. The structure, carried out according to a project by Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, was essentially completed by the autumn of the following year. Theatrical rehearsals immediately began and on the 5th of January 1888 the new theatre was opened with a performance of Wagner's The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.

Current state

The mostly two-storey exterior of the free-standing building contains sculpted bossage on the façade on the ground floor and jointed ashlar stones on the upper floors. An elevated bay protrudes from the main façade with the portico of the entrance way under an open terrace. A triangular gable with numerous figural compositions in a tympanum is situated on a group of six composite columns. The central figure is a poet removing a lyre from the hands of the dead Orpheus and flying up to Pegasus to achieve eternal glory. Winged Fame stands on the height of the gable with a horn while the pylons on the corners of the bay contain Greek chariots pulled by panthers.  Dionysus is standing in the left chariot driven by Thalia. The author of the sculptural décor of the façade was Theodor Friedl. The wall behind the columns supporting the gable opens up with the group of three half-circular vaulted French windows of the foyer. Busts of Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the work of the sculptor Otto Mentzel, were originally situated in the recesses above these. They were removed at the time of the surge of post-war anti-German emotion. Short wings connect up to the external axes of the main façade slightly protruding from the side façades and housing the stairways up into the upper areas of the interior. The space linking up with the entrance bay contains a half-circular vaulted window on the ground floor framed by sculptural bossage. A similar window situated in an edicula is on the first floor composed of composite half-columns and a triangular fronton. The high pilasters connect up the first floor with the upper blind half-storey. The frieze between its capitals is decorated with relief festoons.

The first axes on the ground floor of the side façades have vaulted entrances in an edicula with a triangular fronton while the first floor as well as the upper half-storey have wide carved out recesses. The tympanum of the gable is supplemented by the sculptural work of a group of six putti prancing around tragic and comic masks. Behind the front of the stairway wings are the side façades initially with a nine window scheme section corresponding to the length of the auditorium. Its slightly protruding third and seventh axes open up with right-angled entrances under the segmented frontons. The remaining axes on the ground floor have right-angled windows.  Both the entrances and windows have embossed jambs while the lintels of the windows are equipped with voussoirs with sculpted masks. There are high windows on the first floor with half-circular springers. The third and seventh axes are in ediculas under the triangular frontons on half-columns with Ionic capitals. The right-angled windows at the half-storey rest on a common cornice while the windows of both floors have sections of relief balustrades inserted into the parapets.  The consequent seven window scheme section corresponds to the inner space of the stage. Its slightly protruding external axes are accompanied by high pilasters on both upper floors. Niches with decorative vases are inserted into the surface of the first floor and circular small windows into the half-storey. The central five axes have rectangular windows above triangular frontons on the first floor while the half-storey has smaller right-angled windows with voussoirs in the lintels under the straight cornices. The ground floor opens up with two belts of right-angled windows above one another with the exception of the central axes of the left façade where the right-angled entrance is below a straight cornice. The side façades in the stage sector of the terrace were in their original conditions under the main cornice with the flyloft tower consequently rising behind it. During general reconstruction from the years 1967–1973 a new tower of a prismatic shape was constructed to a height of more than two times the original. The structure around it was increased by a floor along the entire circumference of the stage section. The nine window scheme of the rear façade, with a protruding central part, begins at the level of the first floor of the side façades due to the heightened terrain. The building is mainly covered by saddle roofs with a low slope. A ventilation turret protrudes from the ridge above the auditorium.

The social programme of the structure was influenced by the wealth of the original public and is reflected in the high number of loges with 84 in all. Although this is, of course, a conservative feature in terms of the development perspective, the experienced designers were also able to satisfactorily solve the need for quality visibility for the average audience members as well. They placed 456 seats on the ground floor and 108 on the balcony into a horseshoe-shaped floor plan with the aisles originally reaching up to the height of both parterres to the first and second rows. A further 470 seats were also located in the galleries with four rows with 152 seats behind the perimeter supporting columns. The balanced floor plan and height proportions of the interior do, however, additionally provide creative visibility at these points. In addition to the already-mentioned number of seats, there was additional standing room both at the end of the parterre ('stehparterre') as well as at the side arms of the galleries. The authors created an organised vestibule and foyer, employed at an earlier point in Karlovy Vary, in the entrance areas this time conceived with an oval floor plan. The stairways leading from the vestibule move out in a radial fashion emphasising the diagonal direction toward the foyer and towards both balcony stalls. The design is clear, safe and at the same time elegant.

The designers made use of a similar stylistic duality as with their earlier theatre in Rijeka in the architectural conception. While the exterior maintains sober, strict Neo-Renaissance forms, the interior fully makes use of a rich Neo-Rococo decorativeness with numerous figural sculptural works. The manner in which the divided loges are arranged into three or four levels serves to contribute to the ceremonial character of the auditorium. A trio of loges of a particularly spectacular character are situated behind the columns of the proscenium loges and act as an integral aspect of the stage portal. Arched parapets  protrude into the space at the level of the first and second balconies distinguished from the remaining auditorium area by a wide vaulted belt supported by sculptural figures with fluttering gestures. The ongoing parapet of the open loges consequently connects up behind this group, mutually separated by only retreating dividing walls with caryatids or decorative volutes on the front surface. The ceiling paintings with bucolic themes, set in richly rocaille frames, are the work of Eduard Veith who was additionally the author of the painting on the original curtain with personifications of Virtues and Vices inspiring the drama of the author. Veith's curtain was lost after World War II while the second, loosely based on the theme of Mozart's The Magic Flute, was created in 2002 by Antonín Střížek.

 

 

Sources and Literature:

- BOHEMIA, Praha 8.9.1887

- Katz, Hermann: Das neue deutsche theatre in Prag; Praha  1887.

- Teuber, Oskar: Geschichte des Prager theatres, 3.svazek; Praha 1888, s.826 n.

- Rosenheim, R.: Die Geschichte der deutschen Bühnen in Prag; Praha 1938, s.71-82

- Javorin, Alfred: Divadla a divadelní sály v českých krajích; Praha 1949, díl I.-Divadla, s. 243-248.

- Hoffmann, H.-Chr.: Die theatrebauten von Fellner und Helmer; München 1966, s.106-107 a obr.48-157.

- Hilmera, Jiří: Budova Neues Deutsches theatre scénou Národního divadla již v roce 1938?; Divadelní revue, Praha 1993/3, s. 17-21

- Hilmera, Jiří: Česká a miravská divadla podle projektů atelieru Fellner & Helmer; Divadelní revue, Praha 1994/2, s. 118-34

- Růžena Baťková a kol.: Umělecké památky  Prahy – Nové Město, Vyšehrad, Vinohrady; Praha 1998, s.794-795 (stať J.Hilmery)

- Hilmera, Jiří: Česká divadelní architektura; Praha 1999, s. 42-43, 72, 168; obr. 56-58

- Vrbka, Tomáš: Státní opera Praha 1888-2003; Praha 2004.

 

Tags: Austria-Hungary, Belle Époque, detached building, Fellner and Helmer, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Rococo, prestige building

 

Author: Jiří Hilmera

Translator: Zdislava Kratěnová

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