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Castle Theatre in Valtice

Karel Jan Rudzinsky

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)18. century | castle construction

Karel z Liechtensteinu ordained Valtice city with the castle, which was built out of guarding castle on Moravia-Austria border, to be a residential seat of the family in 1627. His son Karel Eusebius z Liechtensteinu initiated large building adaptation of the city together with reconstruction of the castle. The core of new baroque castle was constructed till the end of 17th century and it was reconstructed and adapted throughout the first third of 18th century.


(detail)1790 | Opening

Duke Alois Josef Liechtenstein charged his court architect Karl Rudzinsky in 1789 with construction and furnishing of new theatre on south-East side of left front castle wing. New theatre was opened by singspiel Prometheus after almost five moths of construction works in September 1790.


(detail)20. century | further development

Although the theatre was not used since 19th century, it was preserved up to 1930s including rich equipment. Its devastation began after Second Word war, when Red Army pillaged the whole castle and thereafter during the period, when the space was used by Czechoslovakian state estates.


(detail)2006 | project of theatre renewal

Mikuláš Hulec and  Daniel Špička from Prague association CORA (centre for protection and restoration of architecture) are engaged in renewal of Valtice theatre. A project for future renewal of the building emerged in 2006 within the project Baroque and Classicistic theatres, which is realized tanks to the support of Packard Humanities Institute (USA).


People

History

Karel of  Liechtenstein (1569–1627) designated the city of Valtice with chateau, built from guarding castle on Moravia – Austria border, as a seat of the family. His son Karel Eusebius of Liechtenstein (1611–1684) initiated extensive building modifications of the city and reconstruction of the chateau as well. New core of Baroque chateau was built north from older buildings up to the end of 17th century and it was being modified throughout the entire first third of 18th century.

Already Karel Eusebius was hiring professional actors and musicians. Monumental exterior production on wagons occurred in Valtice in 1684 to the salute of count Johann Adam Andreas (1662–1712); under the same count, a tradition of autumn Valtice hunting came into existence, which was attended by the imperial court and which component was certainly theatre as well. References about works on theatre painting and linen purchase for theatre as well are dated back to 1696; more concrete report about the independent theatre building or hall has not yet been found.

Despite the lack of direct sources, most of the researchers suppose that the first Valtice theatre was built in the chateau area around 1725 at the latest. It has been pointed out in this regard especially to the fact that court theatre engineer Antonio Beduzzi (1675–1735), a designer of first theatre building in Vienna, Theatre by Karinthia Gate (Kärntnertortheater, 1708), was working for Lichensteins at that time. Professional theatre troupes were hired in Valtice for longer period since 1840s. In the half of 18th century at the latest, a garden theatre came into existence to the south of the chateau, perceptible in ground plan even today.

The count Alois Josef Liechtenstein (1759–1805) assigned his court architect Karla Rudzinský (or Rudczinsky, 1751–1819) to construct and to furnish a theatre on south east side of left chateau wing in the area before the chateau. It is not yet possible to confirm the assumption of some authors that the theatre came into existence by enlargement of the older theatre building. New theatre, built with the cost of 18 000 Guldens, was opened by singspiel Prometheus after almost five months of construction works in September 1790 and already in November of the same year, it witnessed a visit of the emperor Leopold II. New storeroom for wardrobe was arranged in 1791, when the older one turned out to be unusable because of high humidity. House of ropemaker Gilbert was bought for 3860 Guldens for additional stage reconstruction and its enlargement by 6 m in 1793.

In 1793, when Valtice theatre was finished, a minor theatre came into existence in nearby Lednice as well; count Liechtenstein simultaneously founded home theatre in newly constructed palace in Vienna.

The theatre is rectangular two storeyed building with a saddle roof, with an attic gable in the north west and with a hipped end in South East. Facades are segmented by a cornice, windows with window-frames, from which the majority was directed to the stage, are made blind today. The theatre is adjacent by west corner to the south east wing of the chateau, other commercial building of the area in front of the chateau resume on it on north east.

The theatre was surrounded by housing of so called Barvířská ulice (Tinctorial Street) up to the end of 19th century. Stage enlargement in 1793 blocked off this street; therefore an underpass, hidden today in basement of the theatre (terrain around the theatre was originally lower), was built below it.

Because the chateau was built on elevated salient, the theatre stands in the level of its basement and the complicated terrain situation is reflected in the access to the theatre as well. One entered to the theatre partly by the entrance in south west front facade from park level, partly by connecting passage from chateau and by staircase by west corner. Another, today abolished entrances enabled the access onto stage and into technical background below it. The theatre was equipped by required background (dressing rooms, mentioned wardrobe, scenery storage room).

At least partial picture about the theatre appearance is provided by the photographs, made before theatre destruction in 1940s, and orientation of the hall and fragments of wooden constructions from 1963. Rectangular hall has a size of 25 × 13 m, the height of the brickwork is today circa 9 m. The stage occupied roughly 17 m of this area, orchestra pit, separated from the stage by wooden partition with doors on sides, 2 m and auditorium residual 6 m. The hall floor sloped in the direction from auditorium of the area, where the space below the stage was interrupted by a passage to Barvířská ulice.

Two storey gallery, on U ground plan, was inserted into the auditorium. Six columns supported count’s box in the first floor with triplets of boxes on sides, the second floor was occupied by unarticulated gallery. An access from boxes directly onto the stage was here similarly as for instance in Litomyšl chateau theatre. There was a staircase interconnecting all its levels in North East auditorium segment.  

Parapets of the boxes and gallery, auditorium ceiling and portal mirror were embellished by a decorative painting, which is supplemented by richly pleated drapery on the photograph from 1940. There was a richly moulded cornice with Lichenstein coat of arms in the centre above the portal lintel, which lintel was supported by a couple of wooden volutes on the sides. Antonín Bartušek incorrectly assumed this decoration to be Baroque and concluded the older origin of entire auditorium from it (according to him the remains of older theatre from 1st quarter of 18th century). The auditorium was perhaps partially decorated after 1860.  

Stage floor sloped towards auditorium. The stage was equipped by six pairs of side backdrops with the possibility of three scenery exchanges, probably operated by a winch under the stage. The inventory support that there was no lack of  at that time usual stage technique including four trap rooms, flying machines and sound and light effect devices. Remainders of footbridges, surrounding the stage, are perceptible from photographs; access onto them was enabled by a staircase in right (south) corner of the stage. Bricked up opening in the rear wall suggests that it was possible to open the stage to the garden.

The theatre inventory from 1793 mentions a wide array of type sceneries, similarly as set pieces, obtained for concrete productions. No proofs were submitted as so far for the Jan Pömerl’s hypothesis that Josef Platzer (1751–1806) was a scenery painter for Valtice Theatre. Although the fact, that Count Lichenstein purchased Platner’s painting already in 1787 and Platzner painted decorations for palace theatre of Lichensteins in Vienna, supports that theory, it is necessary to take into consideration the evidence about the fact as well that the scenery equipment was supplied by other painters throughout the first phase of theatre operation in 1790 – 1804 - by Martin Sichnit a Stephan Dolliner. Another theatre painter, Michael Rober, is mentioned in the list of employees. A component of theatre equipment was understandably a rich wardrobe as well.   

For longer time hired theatre troupes, whose obligation was to perform in other Lichenstein’s manors, performed in the theatre. Intensive operation of Valtice Theatre was interrupted by the death of count Aloise Josef in 1805; the theatre was used only occasionally in the following years. The last big event was a production organized by count Jan II. (1840–1929) on the occasion of the visit of Frantz Josef I. and crown prince Rudolf in September 1876, when there were actors and singers  of Viennese theatres and an orchestra under the baton of Franze von Suppé performing.

Although it was not used since the end of 19th century, Valtice Theatre including rich equipment had been preserved up to the end of 1930s. It escaped the destiny of being rebuilt into the cinema for SS during the Second World War.  Its devastation began after the war, when it was ransacked by Red Army together with entire chateau and afterwards again during the time, when it was used by Czechoslovakian State Estates. After the property had been transferred to the management of Okresní  národní  výbor v Břeclavi (National District Committee in Břeclav), a surveying of the theatre and a project came into existence in 1963, which supposed its reconstruction into cinema. This has not been realized, however, entire remains of inner furnishing were removed without a trace in 1960. The theatre served as a tractor station for some time afterwards. Plans for renovation were revived in 1980s and one began with modifications for a multifunctional cultural institution and for a discotheque after 1989. The floor was elevated and concreted, podium was made in the location of the stage and a new steel truss was erected to support the entire building.

In the discussions, being held after it had been taken into the state ownership on the beginning of 1990s, about the possible future utilization of the destroyed theatre, an idea appeared that theatre could be restored to the form as similar to its original state as possible and the establishment of so called Baroque Theatre Studio.  In recent years, rising popularity of so called authentic interpretation of old music brought with itself efforts of historically informed performance of historical plays, especially Baroque and Classicist operas. This is possible to realize best in the authentic environment of historical theatres. However, it is possible to play only exceptionally in the preserved historical theatres (in the Czech republic, especially the castle theatres in Český Krumlov, Litomyšl or Mnichovo Hradiště) due to monument preservation and with respect to the unique environment. Therefore designs for the establishment of functional replica of Baroque (historical) theatre have been appearing for several years already - and Valtice Theatre seems to be ideal for this purpose.

Architects Mikuláš Hulec and Daniel Špička from Prague association CORA (Centrum pro ochranu a restaurování architektury – Centre for protection and restoration of architecture) work at the Valtice Theatre restoration. Within the project Baroque and Classicist theatres, being realized thanks to the support of Packard Humanities Institute (USA), a project of future theatre renovation came into existence in 2006. It was possible to design a theatre reconstruction, which should be as close to the original appearance as possible, on the basis of an analysis of historical photographs, a surveying from 1963 and a research of another preserved theatres from 18th century. The reconstruction project  has all the necessary permits today (March 2009) and the funding possibilities  are being examined.

After the indispensable modifications removing inconvenient modern interferences will have been executed, wooden truss will be renovated, a two storey auditorium, a portal mirror and a technical equipment of the stage will be built up again. There will emerge all necessary operational background for actors in adjacent areas and basement and access area for visitors. Installation of historical technology replicas and possibility of experimenting with life lighting, excluded in authentic historical theatres,  all that will create an environment, in which it will be possible to verify interpretational and stage designing procedures of 18th century without restrictions given by strict monument preservation.

 

Sources and literature:

- Photographs of the theatre in the National Monument Office archives and in the castle archive

- Hans Bohatta, Theaterwesen am Hofe des Fürsten von und zu Liechtenstein, Jahrbuch der Geselschaft für Wiener Theaterforschung 1950/51, 1952, p. 38–86

- Jan Pömerl, Liechtensteinská divadla ve Valticích a Lednici, Cour d’honneur: Hrady – zámky – paláce I, 1998, n. 1, p. 65–67

- Pavel Jerie, Restaurování a prezentace zámeckých divadel v Čechách a na Moravě, Historická inspirace: Sborník k poctě Dobroslava Líbala, Praha 2001, p. 139–143

- Mikuláš Hulec & Daniel Špička, Valtice Castle Theatre: Reconstruction Project, in Pavel Slavko – Hana Srbová (eds.), The World of Baroque Theatre: A Compilation of Essays from the Český Krumlov Conferences 2004, 2005, 2006 / Svět barokního divadla: Sborník z přednášek z konferencí v Českém Krumlově 2004, 2005, 2006, Český Krumlov 2007, p. 361–374

- Antonín Bartušek, Zámecká a školní divadla v českých zemích (ed. Jiří Bláha), České Budějovice 2010, p. 177–180

 

 

Tags: Baroque, Castle theatre, Habsburg monarchy

 

Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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