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City Theatre of J.K. Tyl

Antonín Balšánek

alias Great Theatre Plzeň
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1832 | First theatre

The theatre was built according to the design by Italian stage designer and architect Lorenzo Saccheti and it had a capacity of 650 -800 spectators and it was opened in December 1832. Mainly German theatre troupes were performed  here, but already the first season  in 1832–1833 witnessed Czech  language.


(detail)60. 's 19. century | reconstruction

Larger building adjustments of the theatre took place in 1863 and the building was enlarged by the purchased neighbouring house in 1867. After Czechs had won in municipal elections in 1868, the theatre was assigned for six years exclusively for Czech productions  to the association, led by  Pavel  Švanda of Semčice.  German association Deutscher Theaterverein built up promptlytheir own theatre in 1868–1869 with disbursement of 170 000 Guldens according to the design of Prague architect Josef  Niklas with a capacity of 875–1 000 spectators.


(detail)90. 's 19. century | Theatre issue

Theatre issue  in Plzeň became a component of national political struggle in last third of 19th century. The municipal council succeeded in enforcing a financial amount of 700 000 Crowns for new theatre construction, which would have become ostentatious counterpart of local German scene, not until the middle of 1890s, when the city donated  slope plot for future theatre above the so called Little pond in the middle of Stephan (today´s Smetana orchard).


(detail)1895 | preparatory works

The board of representatives imposed on the municipal council by a decree from 20th December of 1895 to perform all the preparatory works for theatre construction. The municipal council asked architect Antonín Hrubý, an employee of the architectural atelier  Fellner & Helmer.


(detail)1896 | Public Competition

The council proposed announcement of a public competition for a new theatre design to the board of representatives on 12th May of 1896, this was successfully managed already in the beginning of the following  year. 13 designs were submitted within the prescribed deadline, at their evaluation,  the  jury consisted of two professors of Prague Czech Technical school : court councillor Jiří Pacold and architect Josef Schulz, beside the city representatives.


(detail)1896 | competition results

The first prize was not awarded, the second prize was granted collectively to design by architect Václav  Bürger from Chemnitz and a joint design by Plzeň architect František Krásný with one of the most important author of Viennese Art Nouveau Josef  Hoffmann . Third prize was gained by joint design by architects Alois  Čenský and  Karel  Kepka; appreciation then three designs by  Antonín  Balšánek ,  Viennese  architects Franz  Krausse and Josef  Tölk   and  Strasbourg architects Kuder  and  Müller .


(detail)1896 | final design

Municipal council adopted a resolution on 23rd December 1896 that they would not announce a new competition for final  theatre designs , but their elaboration  would be entrusted  to Antonín  Balšánek , who was recommended by respected Prague  authorities Schulz  and Pacold.


(detail)1899 | construction
Balšánek submitted theatre designs, adjusted in such a manner that the realization would not  exceed   authorized financial amount (he moderately reduced the spectators’ capacity), to the municipal council in March 1898. In addition to architect Balšánek,  the construction proceeded with participation of Skoda Works engineers, who designed iron structure, and court theatre supervisor Brettscheider, who is the author of stage machinery design.
(detail)27.09.1902 | opening

The building approval  was issued on 3rd  September of 1902 and the ceremonial opening took place on 27th  September with the play Libuše by Bedřich Smetana having been introduced by poetical speech by Adolf Heyduk.


(detail)80. 's 20. century | reconstruction

Apart from ordinary operational repairs, the building has been  preserved in an unaltered state with original technical equipment up to 1979. Extensive reconstruction took place between 1980- 1985. Its designer was general architect P. Němeček.


People

(detail)Antonín Balšánek |main architect

Czech  architect of late  Revivalism and Art Nouveau  . From his works: City theater in Plzeň and Pardubice, with Osvald Polívka carried out the construction of Municipal House in Prague.

Balšánek presented his theoretical views about theatre architecture within extensive series of lectures “ About building” in the course of 1913. He stated here that if somebody was evaluating objectively constructed theatres in Czech region in the last years, he “must certainly admit that within given conditions it was reached the maximum of meeting the modern needs without exception in every regard.” He labels the German reformatory, only “allegedly modern” endeavours and attempts to introduce an amphitheatrical type of theatre in Bohemia to be “ completely incorrect”. He associated them with Wagnerian productions pervaded by a ceremonial mood and participation of a cosmopolitan audience, which are “the aspects, which have nothing in common nor with an actual theatre purpose nor with its noble role – to be a people’s house”. He placed against the German effort the healthy ideas of folk theatre and reminded the ideas circulating in Russia endeavouring   “that theatre would become the real centre for all social classes, longing for education, and in that sense that it would be connected with public libraries and tea houses” (see  Antonín Balšánek, O stavebnictví, Architektonický Obzor XII, 1913, s. 137).

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Václav Bürger |architect - participant of the competition
František Krásný |architect - participant of the competition
Josef Hoffmann |architect - participant of the competition
(detail)Alois Čenský |architect - participant of the competition

He was a very successful architect, technician, scientist, professor and dean of construction department of ČVUT (Czech technical university) at the beginning of the 2Oth century. At the same time he worked as an editor of a magazine “An architectural horizon” ( Architektonický obzor). Among his most famous buildings belong Theatre of Vinohrady (1902–7)and National house and market at Smíchov (1905–8), which are the most renown examples of Czech eclecticism.

 

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Karel Kepka |architect - participant of the competition
Franz Krauß |architect - participant of the competition
Josef Tölk |architect - participant of the competition
Josef Podhajský |architect - participant of the competition
Jiří Pacold |jury member
(detail)Josef Schulz |jury member

He belongs among the most known architects of the Czech Neo Renaissance architecture. He was a co-worker and continuator of J. Zítek by building the Rudolfinum and completion of the National Theatre after the fire. His man work – the National Museum – was build according to Viennese museums and the Louvre in Paris as a truly representative (although not very functional) national monument. He topped his work off with construction of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. He was a versatile architect and designer, although rather not much original in comparison with the talent of Zítek. However, his main buildings are considered the showpieces of Czech architecture, on which famous sculptors and painters worked as well – the so called generation of the National Theatre. As an outstanding pedagogue, he influenced the entire generation of his disciples.

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

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Josef Mandl |painter
(detail)František Fröhlich |painter

Author of painting works in minor and grand hall in Smetana House in Litomyšl.

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(detail)František Urban |painter

His life work was dedicated to church art, especially to the wall decoration of the churches and designs of church windows. He was disciple of František Ženíšek, skilful in drawing and composition and became a decorator of large surfaces, stylized with an accent of Vienesse Art Nouveau.

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F. Stránský |sculptor
František Rous |sculptor
Vilém Amort |sculptor
(detail)Otakar Walter |sculptor

Sculptor and stuccoer, stone-cutting and stuccowork in exterior and on the bridge in Smetana House.

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(detail)Antonín Popp |sculptor

Czech sculptor and professor on the UMPRUM.

In:

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Josef Čipera |contractor

History

A  detached, diagonally sited building with the northwest, main entrance facade towards Klatovská Street, with  the side  south facade towards Smetana orchards.

The oldest known theatre productions  in Plzeň are dated back to the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century (reports began to appear in 1798) and were conducted in German, first Czech amateur performances are supported with evidence from 1818. Different locations were used for playing – in the Knight hall of the so called German House on the square, in the  municipal house hall and in inns By Golden Eagle, By Archduke Ferdinand and By White Rose. When   fortification walls on the west side of the city were being torn down in 1831, the municipal council consented  to release one of these plots in present  Rieger Street for  a theatre construction that was built  a year later from the collection  yields  and with the help of burghers  with a brewing right. The theatre was built according to the design by Italian stage designer and architect Lorenzo Saccheti and it had a capacity of 650 -800 spectators and it was opened in December of 1832. Mainly German theatre troupes were performing here, but already the first season  in 1832–1833 witnessed Czech  language. Larger building adjustments of the theatre took place in 1863 and the building was enlarged by the purchased  neighbouring house in 1867. After Czechs had won in municipal elections in 1868, the theatre was assigned for six years exclusively for Czech productions  to the association, led by  Pavel  Švanda of Semčice.  The German association Deutscher Theaterverein built up promptlytheir own theatre in 1868–1869 with disbursement of 170 000 Guldens according to the design by Prague architect Josef  Niklas with a capacity of 875–1 000 spectators.

A theatre issue  in Plzeň became a component of a national political struggle in the last third of the 19th century. Necessity of new theatre construction was tirelessly propagated  in particular by the professor of local technical secondary school Josef Čipera. Plzeň reached  50 000 inhabitants in 1890 and the old theatre was not sufficient anymore for theatre purposes. The municipal council succeeded in enforcing a financial amount of 700 000 Crowns for new theatre construction that should have become an ostentatious counterpart of the local German venue, not until the middle of the 1890s, when the city donated  a slope plot for future theatre above the so called Little pond in the middle of Stephan (today´s Smetana) orchard. The board of representatives imposed on the municipal council by a decree from 20th December of 1895 to perform all the preparatory works for theatre construction. The municipal council asked architect Antonín Hrubý, an employee of architectural atelier  Fellner & Helmer,  for elaboration of a preliminary project, he submitted   soon  the design  with a technical report, in which he confirmed the suitability of the selected construction site on the periphery of the city centre. The council proposed announcement of a public competition for a new theatre design to the board of representatives on 12th May of 1896, this was successfully managed already in the beginning of the following  year. In the agenda of the competition, there was  specified the necessary capacity, allocation and dimensions of individual rooms, yet the orientation of the building, which construction costs should not have exceeded 350 000 Guldens, was left to the designers´  ingenuity. 13 designs were submitted within the prescribed deadline, at their evaluation  the  jury consisted of two professors of the Prague Czech Technical School : court councillor Jiří Pacold and architect Josef Schulz, beside   city representatives.

The first prize was not awarded, the second  prize was granted collectively to the design by architect Václav  Bürger from Chemnitz and   joint design by Plzeň architect František Krásný with one of the most important author of Viennese Art Nouveau Josef  Hoffmann . The third prize was gained by the joint design by architects Alois  Čenský and  Karel  Kepka; an appreciation then to the three designs by  Antonín  Balšánek ,  Viennese  architects Franz  Krausse and Josef  Tölk   and  Strasbourg architects Kuder  and  Müller .

The municipal council adopted a resolution on 23rd December 1896 that they would not announce a new competition for the final  theatre designs , but their elaboration  would be entrusted  to Antonín  Balšánek , who was recommended by respected Prague  authorities Schulz  and Pacold. The conservative jury thus gave a preference to the more conventional Neo Renaissance design over the more progressive design by Krásný and Hoffmann, elaborated in the style of Wagner Art Nouveau Classicism. Whilst Krásný with  Hoffman  designed  an auditorium  roof similarly as it is in the basilica in Vicenza, they exceeded  the volume  of a fly loft, they highlighted the verticality of the building by pylons, crowned  by sculpture groups, and  they created  details of cornices, fragile canopies and attics to be a representation of Viennese modernism,  the  Balšánek´s design on the other hand differed from all the other designs by having  a horseshoe-shaped  layout, by a big circular form of the auditorium, in which he – apparently inspired by Semper´s solution of the Dresden Opera Theatre- harmonized   outer architecture of the building with its inner arrangement. Renowned Prague architect Jan Koula, who was reporting  on the competition in 1897, appreciated on  Balšánek´s design especially a  harmonic architectural solution of the exterior, composed  in pure Renaissance architectural expression, and decorative staircases,    with which utilization the designer was counterbalancing the terrain on the lateral facade, facing the city orchard.

Balšánek submitted theatre designs, adjusted in such a manner that the realization would not  exceed   authorized financial amount (he moderately reduced the spectators’ capacity), to the municipal council in March of 1898. In addition to architect Balšánek,  the construction proceeded with participation of Skoda Works engineers, who designed an iron structure, and court theatre supervisor Brettscheider, who is the author of the stage machinery design.  A building permit  was issued on 3rd  September of 1902 and the ceremonial opening took place on 27th  September with the play Libuše by Bedřich Smetana having been introduced by a poetical speech by Adolf Heyduk.

Karel B. Mádl was justifiably evaluating art merits and demerits of the Balšánek´s new work in his feuilleton from January of 1903, when he was concluding that „ it is in  harmony with context of the city, its architectural expression is not ordinary or even trivial. However, it lacks warmth in detail, a strong characteristic in expression and there is nowhere […] any original motif.“  Judgements  about Neo Renaissance architecture of Plzeň theatre were considerably altering in course of the years: while the theatre was praised in 1927 for multilaterally lucky implementation, four decades later it seemed to be „ rather ostentatious than technically and operationally efficient“ to the authors of contemporary history books. Apart from ordinary operational repairs, the building has been  preserved in an unaltered state with original technical equipment up to 1979. Extensive reconstruction took place between 1980- 1985. Its designer was general architect P. Němeček. Layout adjustments  were carried out in the auditorium, stage and in a part of technical background  (dressing room etc.). New rooms had emerged in two underground stories under terraces on the sides of the theatre (a transformer, electricity distribution point, rehearsal rooms) , only an extension was added on the rear side of the historical building above ground, it followed up the main stage in the level of the first floor, which was thus  prolonged.

The extension has a stone pedestal and smooth ochre plasterwork, segmented only by delineated pilaster strips, which corners were embellished by copies of carvings of dancing angels from the front facade of the theatre.  Besides   restoration of  rich stucco, sculpture and paint decoration of the theatre, to which the original colouring and shape form was restored, the communication and social rooms  were given an embellishment of  large paintings, tile walls and glass panes with communist iconography.

 

Present state

 

The theatre forms a distinct landmark in the area of a city orchards opening to a crossroad of busy roads, markedly perceptible in the overall city panorama. A diagonal aspect  of the detached  theatre building solved positively an unfavourable location of the construction site  with considerable declivity. The access to the main entry is led through a moderately lifted approach  ramp, in the entry side covered by an arched terrace supported by two columns, which  relieve the impression by a pair of protruding Tuscan columns. A balustrade frames the terrace, cast-iron candelabras from Plzeň firm Vojtěch Šíp stand above the columns.  The central three bay segment of the front facade is flanked  by side bays, covered  by chamfered rustication, which is interchanged by voussoirs above the barrel vault window. High rectangular windows with balustrade  parapets frame Ionian pilasters in the first floor  with more finely delineated rustication , circle medallions with Ján Kollár  and  Bedřich  Smetana are inserted into recessed fields above windows. Surface of  the first floor of the central front facade segment  is filled  by triplets of windows with three centre arches, framed by high  Ionic columns.

Window spandrels are filled by allegorical figurative reliefs, thematically combined into pairs: Love and  Jealousy (by Antonín Procházka), Enthusiasm  and Self-sacrifice (by Stanislav  Sucharda) and  Heroism and Destiny (by  Myslbek´s desiciple  František  Stránský). A screened terrace, covered by a balustrade, is concealed above the crown moulding  with   massive dentils. The upper recessed segment of the building grows out of it crowned by a triangular gable, the keystone of a Diocletian window carries a head of   Apollo in its tympanum. Sculptures of dancing puttos by František Hergesel  are inserted into gable ends and there is a lyre in the top. Pedestals carry  relief inscriptions (Drama and Opera) and two sculpture groups by sculptor Ladislav Šaloun above the cornice of the bay. Drama is  personified by a group of  old women with snakes in their hair, a young man and a wyvern monster, Opera is represented by a  half naked girl with a lyre, a naked boy and a swan are gathered around  her on sides. Lateral, thirteen bay facades are rhythmized by three  bays of a staircase wing  repeating bay segmentation  of the front facade. We can find portraits of Czech playwrights and music composers in circular medallions above the actual and blank windows on the facades. František Rous created   portraits of Jan  Nepomuk  Štěpánek , Karel Bendl, Hynek  Palla, Václav  Kliment  Klicpera, Emanuel  Bozděch  and Jana Kollár  (on the theatre frontage) and Vilém Amort created   portraits of Vítězslav  Hálek, Bernard Guldener, František Věnceslav  Jeřábek, František Škroup and Vilém Blodek.

Both the sides of the auditorium section are flanked by ground floor terraces, paved by stone panels with staircases, interconnecting side exits of the theatre and city park. The facade of the original basement, opened up by rectangular windows or entrances and having chamfered rustication, is  gradually uncovered on steep land. 

The auditorium segment of the building has windows with a semicircular arch in a five bay  section between protrusions, the stage segment  has rectangular ones below  frontons. The upper half  floor  is opened  by small rectangular windows – in the auditorium segment with compound ones.

Central three  bay projection, which pediment is supported by high pilasters, juts out from  a seven bay rear frontage with recessed border axes. This segment of the theatre was visually devaluated by an  utility extension, added to the theatre  construction in the 1980s.

The auditorium is covered by a saddle roof with metal acroterions on eaves and with a ventilation  turret in the form of a gazebo in Art Nouveau Style, opened  by thermal windows.

A prismatic volume  of the fly loft, with separating pilasters on the sides and stone vases on corners, is risen  above the crowning cornice of the stage part. A high copper roof with a shape of a trough-vault is topped by a roof light, opened  by an array of squared windows and covered by low hip roof with pair of lightning conductors on ridge.

The layout of the theatre was complied with a box-tier of seats arrangement. An oblong vestibule is located perpendicularly to the entrance axis, partly two flights of stairs of a transversely situated  main staircase with a balustrade and mirror face a wall ascend from  it, partly an entrance leads into a ring basement corridor with cloakrooms and box  staircase out from  it. The main staircase is flanked on both the sides with glassed windows that connect them by an interesting look through with the foyer  occupying the entire breadth of the front facade above the vestibule and with ring corridors.

The auditorium of wide U- plan is moderately close to a horseshoe shape with thin narrowing in the front segment (in the level of proscenium boxes).  Theatre capacity   is 1 000–1 150 of spectators’ seats, distributed  in the stalls, dress and upper circle and in the upper balcony . Eight side boxes could be accommodated  in the stalls, ten in  the dress and upper circle each; upper circle boxes  are completely opened,  mutually parted only by low divisions. Wide amphitheatres take up the centre of both the circles, the upper circle is confined to the central amphitheatre. Circles and boxes were provided by a continuous parapet decorated by a grotesque relief. The ceiling, evolved from a circular base, passes to wide cavetto, opened in front of the upper circle by an arcade of five depressed arches on thin iron piers with Corinthian-like capitals.

The stage, separated by an orchestra pit from the auditorium, is opened up by a portal under a depressed arch; it reaches almost the extent of the National Theatre stage by its size (22 × 13,3 m). An oblong back stage is flanked to the main playing area . the stage area is surrounded by diverse technical operations, dressing rooms, property-rooms and other rooms from the  basement up to the top floor. Vaults are partly brick, partly concrete; boxes, circles, galleries and stage equipment (trap rooms, fly loft) have steel structures. Main theatre ceiling is hanged on massive  roof beams and has a wooden purlin over the auditorium.

The theatre is outstanding by its rich paint and sculpture decoration that  intensifies from the simply elaborated vestibule through the main staircase to the auditorium and opulent foyer. Sculpture decoration prevailed over the paint one in the auditorium due to acoustic reasons. Stucco decoration with grotesque compositions was created by sculptors Vilém Amort, who moulded all the figures, and Otakar Walter. Antonín Popp  created a caryatid in the proscenium boxes in the form of beautiful women in robes. Professor  of Prague Decorative Arts School  Vítězslav Mašek painted ornamental decoration of the proscenium as well as framing of central scenery on the curtain in combination  of blue, gray and golden colour. Prague firm  Suda and  Kotěšovec supplied the main chandelier in the form of a glass  bunch of grapes, František Křižík’s enterprise from Prague Karlín supplied smaller lighting fixtures and ceiling rosettes. Plzeň painter Augustin Němejc created the curtain. It carries allegorical depiction Plzeň welcoming Art on the threshold of a new theatre (Drama, Comedy, Satire, Lyric drama and Opera, which all should have found their sanctuary in the building), which is set into landscape scenery with a symbol of regional affiliation – castle Radyně – and complemented with locally characteristic figures in folk costumes including the famous  bagpiper Kaňák.

The most demanding paint decoration filled the main social area, foyer, interesting already by its layout: Palladian arches separate minor sectors on both the ends of a long hall under a glass vault with lunettes. Prague painter  František Fröhlich covered the vaults with rich decoration in Art Nouveau style. The central field is vivified by allegories Tragedy, Music, Dance and Drama that are similarly as corner figures the work of Ženíšek’s disciple František  Urban. Front foyer walls are embellished by painting Fairy tale and Legend, created by Josef Mandl. The usage of refined materials contributes to an augmented  impression from all the rooms: granite from Železný Brod in the vestibule, marble from Slivenec and Suchomast for the balustrade and columns on the main staircase, Algerian marble for  the shafts of columns in the foyer and Carrara marble for their foots and capitals. Corridors and other rooms have terrazzo flooring, sometimes garnished by mosaic borders and rosettes.

 

 

Sources and literature:

– Stavební archiv města Plzně, plánová a spisová složka k budově divadla J. K. Tyla čp. 16

– Jan Koula, Nové městské divadlo v Plzni, Technický obzor V, 1897, č. 5 a 6, s. 37–39, 45–47, 89–91, 107–108, 313–314

Zlatá Praha XV, 1898, č. 14, s. 166–167

– Karel B. Mádl, V Plzni, Národní listy z 11. 1. 1903, s. 13

– Antonín Balšánek – Josef Čipera, Nové divadlo král. města Plzně: Na paměť slavnostního otevření, Plzeň 1902

Světozor 1906, č. 43, s. 127

– František Kříž (ed.), Divadlo města Plzně v letech 1902–1927: Jubilejní spisek, Plzeň 1927

– Alfred Javorin, Divadla a divadelní sály v českých krajích I, Praha 1949, s. 171–175

Dějiny Plzně II: Od roku 1788 do roku 1918, Plzeň 1967

– Zdeněk Lukeš, František Krásný: Vůdčí osobnost nástupu secese v české architektuře 1896–1900, Umění 34, 1986, č. 6, s. 538

– Dobroslav Líbal, Podstata vývoje a proměn historické Plzně, Zprávy památkové péče LV, 1995, č. 7, s. 223

– Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura. Praha 1999, s. 56–60

 

Tags: Austria-Hungary, Belle Époque, detached building, Fin de siècle, Neo-Renaissance, prestige building

 

Author: Pavel Panoch

Translator: Jan Purkert

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