/ enMain menu 
Navigation:  Theatre Database

Kotzen Theatre

alias v Kotcích Theatre, Theater an der Kotzen, Kotzen Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1739 | opening

(detail)1783 | closure
It closed in 1783 for safety reasons.



The seventeen century witnessed increasing popularity of opera that was spreading from North Italian cities to sovereign courts in Europe and then further among wider classes of  bourgeoisie.  Its character required higher concentration of financial means in comparison with other genres and so its performing was an occasion for ostentatious patronage for boosting prestige be it a court, nobility or at a much lower scale - bourgeoisie.   Provincial Prague had the  opportunity to experience such a similar prestige celebration during the coronation of Charles VI. in 1723, of which part was a grandiose performance of the opera Costanza e fortezza. It left a deep impression in the Prague high society and gave a new impetus to the effort for establishing a theatre venue that would be dedicated to opera.  The reaction for the demand of part of population of roughly 40 to 50 thousand city for the entertainment of such a kind grew from activities of count Franz Anton von Sporck.  On the basis of his impulse, Venetian impresario  Antonio Denzio started working the following year in Prague running the Italian type of opera at his castle theatre in Kuks and a public theatre that was located in the garden of count's Prague palace.  The latter one was functioned already from 1701 and the count had it reconstructed and enlarged for this occasion.  This private theatre played the role of a municipal opera for several years.  After several years in its heyday, insufficient attention of count Sporck at first endangered its existence, which was eventually terminated by the death of its sponsor.  Already before that, the representatives of the Old Town city council led by Johan Caspar Prandt started searching for a solution to it that would still offer as the theatre enjoyment, which they thought highly of, as well as the opportunity to lower   social barriers by sharing the same pastime as the higher nobility. The city decided to establish a new theatre venue inside the hall of a building that was then known as Smaller Quarters (Menší kotce).


The entire building was about 195 meters long and was divided in the middle by a passage into the so-called Bigger and Smaller Quarters.  It was a structure of a basilican plan with a central nave being exceeded by one storey, in which the side naves were divided into compartments by partitions, ten on one side and nine on the other in the Smaller Quarters that were rented according to the Emphyteusis right to individual members of the guild who run their businesses in them.   In the present day Czech, the semantic meaning of the term "kotce" has been preserved in the naming of kennels for dogs i.e separated spaces next to each other.  Buildings of such type used to be a centre not only for commerce but for culture as well.   In a certain sense, Quarters represented as sort of a predecessor of the present day shopping malls.   The markets were a usual place for theatre performed by touring companies and comedians and so insertion of a theatre venue in such a space felt more than natural.   Conversion was approved by the city council probably already in 1737.  Johan Ferdinand Schor was considered to be the designer of the theatre, but that has been disputed in recent exploration.   The construction works begun probably in the summer of 1738. The Prague municipality didn't pursue as prestigious goals as nobility would and tried to get the theatre with lowest cost possible.  A part of costs was covered by noble patrons.   The total costs amounted to 15 000 Guldens for five months of works.   It was opened in the spring season of 1739.


The conversion of the building used economically as much from the existing building as possible. The ground floor storey with shops had been preserved and served its original purpose further on.   But the central nave acquired a new floor in the first floor at the level of the ceiling of the side naves and at the same time, the west side nave was enlarged by two storeys to be of the same height as the further wall of the central nave.  So a space spreading over two floors came into existence that occupied two thirds of the plan in width (roughly 13,5 meters) with two belts of windows, which lead in the first floor on the south into the loft above the south side nave. The structure was topped by a loft with a saddle roof.  In the west section, a staircase into the theatre was inserted that was accessible from the passageway between the Bigger and Smaller Quarters. The theatre was equipped with a horseshoe-shaped auditorium being 23 metres long and a stage with 18 meters in length.  A shallow orchestra pit was inserted between four proscenium arch boxes separating the auditorium and stage.   There were boxes in the auditorium in two circles, at first with fifteen of them in each and later probably after a reconstruction with twenty two in each and a gallery above them. The boxes were rented in 1752 each for five ducats for four persons.  The entire inner structure was wooden.   The building appeared from the outside to be an ordinary Baroque house with a sober expression articulated by rustication in the corners and window architraves.


The new theatre was a property of the city, which rented it to theatre entrepreneurs - impresarios who took care of theatre operation as an institution.  These also run the opera on a commercial basis as the so-called  "impresarial theatre". The repertoire and operation was determined by the entrepreneur who was focused on audience's demands.  The success or failure of such undertaking was dependent on his connections, knowledge, horizons and abilities.  Townsmen's participation bestowed its character to the theatre to a large extent, which was rather extraordinary in the area north of Alps for the court theatre in castles and palaces here pursued mainly prestige goals. It corresponded with the fact that an entrance fee was collected and also it resembled more its North Italian examples as far as organization concerns.  The theatre became the most important of Prague's venues for more than 40 years until the Estates Theatre was opened in 1783.   


A considerable number of impresarios replaced one another in the first twenty years of the theatre existence.  The first one of them was Santo Lapis who begun his activity in Prague in the above mentioned theatre of count Sporck, but he worked only one season in the new theatre.  The theatre operation was then interrupted by French-Bavarian occupation of Prague between 1741 and 1742 during the War of the Austrian Succession.  After some wooden partitions had been removed, the space was used as a storeroom for flour, corn and other. The level of devastation of the theatre required a subsequent repair that cost roughly 1 100 Guldens.  The design of interior renovation was approved in November of 1743 and the theatre operation was probably resumed at the beginning of 1744.   


Interior remodelling and equipment repair probably followed after 1745 when a trap room and lifting devices were installed.  One of other impresarios was Giovanni Batista Locatelli who rented the theatre between  1748–1757 and who had some minor remodelling be done here in 1748.   In this period apart of the genre of opera seria, also opera buffa reach high popularity when often the works of Baldassar Galuppi were introduced here with librettos by Carlo Goldoni.  During the Prussian siege of Prague in 1757, the theatre was damaged and immediately repaired, because it introduced new operas already in the next year.   We are informed as well about minor remodelling in 1763 as well.    


Other 18 years of the existence of this theatre venue is connected with the name of merchant Giuseppe Bustelli who was the tenant of the theatre from 1764 when he carried out some minor remodelling including dressing rooms probably until his death in 1781. During his activity, also operas of Czech authors as was Josef Mysliveček or Jan Antonín Koželuh were introduced here.  Apart of that, operas by A. Salieri, G. Paisiello or G. Gazzaniga were staged here.


Preserved protocols about annual building inspections from 1775 forward reveal increased concern about the condition of the theatre.  After the requirements for audience safety were increased during the reign of Joseph II. and at the same time, it was taken more care to keep them respected, the theatre couldn't comply to them any more. Not only because its inner construction was completely wooden, but also for its only entrance didn't allow quick vacating of the building in case of fire, which was considered intolerably dangerous.  The emperor's decree from 24th August of 1782  8. decided that the theatre shouldn't be further used to stage opera or drama, "because the danger of fire and for many other concerns". The very same decree approved the construction of the new Estates Theatre and competition in its very vicinity wouldn't contribute to its prosperity.   The last season of 1782 / 83 thus concluded the theatrical use of this space.  


Another use was being searched for in vain for a long time and all the reconstruction designs have never been carried out.  One of them is preserved design from 1788 by Jan Práchner and Josef Siska intending to convert the building into a three storey house with courtyard balconies.  From 1807 onward, set pieces from the Estates Theatre were stored here.  Also other initiatives for use of the theatre space have failed and the building itself succumbed to a large redevelopment of the Old Town in 1891 during the economic boom in the quarter century before the First World War.  It was replaced by a Neo - Renaissance building of the Municipal Saving Bank that stands there still today.


The theatre used to be an important transalpine centre of Italian opera, with which centres, especially with Venice, maintained vivid relations.   The theatre building of that time left a mark in the memory of the world's theatre with the premiers of operas Ezio and the second one Issipile, which were directed by their author Christoph Wilibald Gluck who was a bandmaster here in the seasons 1749/50 and  1751/52.  In the nationalistic discourse in the second half of the 19th century, according to which a national revival happened after a long hiatus in the period of dark ages for the nation, the Kotzen Theatre was highly appreciated as a place where attempts to use Czech language occurred.  The theatre in this understanding was perceived as one of main tools of education to national awareness, as a seat of higher culture and its existence was mentioned as a piece in a story of continuation that culminated in the establishment of the National Theatre.





– Oscar Teuber, Geschichte des Prager Theaters: von den Anfängen des Schauspielwesens bis auf die neueste Zeit. Erster Theil, Von den Keimen des Theaterwesens in Prag bis zur gräfl. Nostitzschen Theaters, des späteren deutschen Landestheaters. Prag: A. Haase 1883, s. 167 n.

– Antonín Novotný, Staropražská theatralia: Materialie k dějinám pražského divadelnictví. Praha: Čs. divadelní a literární jednat. 1955, s. 54–61

– František Kašička – Milada Vilímková, Minulost pražských Kotců a předpoklady pro jejich regeneraci. Zprávy památkové péče 26, 1966, s. 135–149, 159, 160

– František Černý(ed.), Dějiny českého divadla I. Praha: Academia 1968, s. 268

– František Černý (ed.), Divadlo v Kotcích: nejstarší pražské městské divadlo 1739–1783. Praha: Panorama 1992








Author: Jan Purkert

Translator: Jan Purkert

Additional information

No information has yet been entered

Add information

Name: The name will be published

Email: The email will not be published

Information: Please enter information about this theatre, at least 10 characters