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Wrocław Opera

alias Stadttheater (City Theatre, 1841-1945), Opera Dolnośląska (2000-2005), Opera Dolnośląska (Opera of Lower Silesia, 1945-1948), Opera Wrocław (Opera Wrocław, 1949-2000), Teatry Dolnośląskie - Opera Wrocław (Theatres of Lower Silesia-Opera Wrocław, 1948-1949)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)13.11.1841 | inauguration of the stage with the performance "Egmont" by J.W.Goethe with music by L. van Beethoven

(detail)1865 | fire and rebuilt after fire
1865-1867 Carl Lüdecke (rebuilt after the fire, new rooms for painting workshop, extending the auditorium, decorations in foyer)
(detail)1871 | fire and rebuilt after fire
1871-1872, Carl Schmidt (extending the proscenium opening, extending proscenium)
(detail)8.9.1945 | opening after the war with the performance "Halka" by Stanisław Moniuszko
(detail)2006 | renovation and modernization

People

(detail)Carl Lüdecke |architect
German architect. He studied in Berlin. He taught at the School of Building and Crafts in Wrocław.More theatres

(detail)Carl Ferdinand Langhans |architect
German architect, designer, the builder of many theatre and opera buildings in Silesia and Germany. More theatres

(detail)Theodor Milczewski |sculptor
German architect, working in Wroclaw. He design stuccos on the auditoriu of Wrocław Opera.

(detail)Franz Augustini |sculptor
Stuccos in the Lobe Theatre; sculptures on façade and in theatre (Wrocław Opera)More theatres

(detail)Carl Andreas Mächtig |sculptor
sculpture of Muses on the balcony (Wrocław Opera)

History

The building of the theatre was erected at Świdnicka street in Wroclaw within 1839-1841 according to the plan of Arl Ferdinand Langhans – the most eminent architect working then in Silesia. The official opening took place on the 13th of November 1841. The building following the classics style with extremely modern for these times stage and auditorium for about 1600 seats was the culmination of city dwellers ambitions. Beside the breaks caused by two fires the Wroclaw opera theatre worked regularly until 1944 gaining the position of one of the leading German theatres.

The building of the Miejski Theatre (Stadttheatre) was established in the south part of the old city at Świdnicka street as detached house. Its present appearance as a result of many renovations much differs from the original one. It was established on the plan of rectangle with façade and the main entrance located in the narrower elevation from Świdnicka street. In the rectangle of projection there was put another, a little bit smaller inside rectangle which contained the main parts of the theatre: deep stage with backstage and auditorium arranged in a semicircle, surrounded by halls and stairs. The very centre of the theatre was surrounded by representative and auxiliary rooms. Four-storey building consisted of three, strongly isolated parts/masses (portico, body masses, fly). Enormous, three-storey base block was roofed with hip, flat, invisible from the level of the street roof. Such shape was repeated by the superstructure rising over auditorium and stage, roofed with a gable roof. Its gables was topped with triangular frontage. Today from this superstructure there is only a sign in the form of the theatre tower. From the side of the main entrance there was portico with four solid pillars where was balcony with full balustrade. The main storey of the body balanced regularly located, rectangle balcony windows and window lintel straight cornice encompassed the whole mass. Second and third storey, fastened with pilasters and closed with entablature had similar arrangement of windows. Pilasters formed kind of clasp bonding the mass. The only non architectural elements were sculptures of four muses: Thalia, Polyhymnia, Euterpe, Melpomene located on the balustrade of the balcony and crowning the frontage sculpting composition – supported by lyre dolphins. The form of four-storey building was determined by lines of boxes located on a semicircle with common obliquely set proscenium boxes. This auditorium type emphasized clearly bourgeois not court character of the theatre. The interior of the theatre was stylistically consistent, concise architectural composition where similar to elevations – decorative effect resulted only from the game of vertical and horizontal signs.

Solemn character was made by the red colour of walls, draperies, upholsteries and balustrades, by white colour of architectural elements and gildings. The interior was roofed and the roof was with painting pictures of the biggest German compositors and poets: Beethoven, Goethe, Gluck, Lessing, Schiller and Mozart. Today appearance of the building was determined by fires in 1865 and 1871. After the first fire with the rebuilding was entrusted Carl Lüdecki who added from the west side the ground floor annex for paint rooms, making the interior of auditorium higher about 1,5 m and making the height of first floor balcony lower, what helped to build another fourth balcony. Each floor got different supporting small columns and balustrades. As the result of these changes the interior of auditorium lost its old uniformity. Distinguishing in pairs small columns of proscenium boxes the egalitarian set of boxes was broken. The stage hole was made higher, stage portal was enlarged by huge Corinthian pilasters and by finishing with depressed arch.  Triad of colours was complemented by adding the green colour. Design of foyer was enriched by located on the axis of pilasters stucco figures of  inspired geniuses. Design of outside frontage was also changed – over the ground floor in place of once smooth surface of the wall now there was meander frieze. Old straight pilasters got a column and sumptuous Corinthian capitals and entablature  - circle-shaped stucco decorations. Low, straight attic was replaced with higher, baluster one. There was enriched sculpting decoration of the fly – empty so far frontage from the east side was filled in figurative composition with figure of Apollo and crowned with group of sculptures (two sitting figures of muses holding lyre). The corner of the fly was decorated by two compositions presenting winded griffins with foots on candelabra. Lüdecke aspire to soften the passageway between buildings what deprived the architectural composition its old severe distinctiveness, contrast and simplicity. The theatre changed its appearance once again because of its rebuilding after second fire. Selected through competition architect Carl Schmidt significantly widened, at the expense of  balcony boxes, the proscenium area. It was isolated by architectural setting making block where boxes of ground floor was the plinth for full, reaching the third floor royal box crowned with figures of inspired geniuses. The whole interior splendoured stucco-painting decoration. In the center of the ceiling there were placed paintings of half-stripped Apollo rising over four steeds surrounded by muses and Graces. The center of the composition set imposing with its size chandelier. Right with the arches of the stage hole there were put down stucco figures of Athena with owl and Apollo with swan. Above, there was put stucco figurative composition – two inspired, half-lying geniuses supporting the Wroclaw coat of arms.

Changes in the outside appearance of the building were also characteristic by its pathos and wealth. Schmidt gave the body the form which looked like monumental, renaissance-classics castle with magnificent six-columned portico. He eliminated the superstructure over the body leaving only its part directly above the stage – thereby depriving it of its temple character gave by Langhans. The vertical divisions balanced with friezes and the lines of pediments of first floor. He made the three-storey building wider by two arches, giving it the Corinthian order, crowning with triangle frontage and establishing it the most significant element of the building. Inside the portico he put round bust of Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven. Character of the building by its appearance was supposed to highlight the wealth of the citizens and manifest power and wealth of then German bourgeoisie.

After 1945 were removed, destroyed by bullets, figures and for political reasons there were removed from the façade undamaged busts of German artists Beethoven, Goethe, Mozart and Schiller and the mural of Schmidt were hacked off from the outside wall. Most of the ornaments of XIX century survived, among others: plafond with portraits of compositors, central chandelier (made out of gas into electric one) and imperial box. In 1954-1956 the south part of the building was enlarged. Thorough modernization began in 1997 and finished in 2006. The building until now has not changed fundamentally the shape given by Schmidt, however despite many changes, in the base of architectural assumption, remained simple, geometrical Langhan’s projection.

In 1943 on the balcony balustrade there were put sculptures of muses of artificial sandstones which made Carl Andreas Mächtig (today there are standing casts of lost originals made in the beginning of XXI century).

Anna Turowiec

 

The theatre was built in the southern part of the Old Town, in Świdnicka Street, which had long been regarded as the most important artery, not just commercially, on the site of the former buildings and gardens of the Commandery of the Knights of Saint John between 1839 and 1841. The location between Świdnicka Street, Ćwiczeń Square and the newly located Promenada enormously raised the rank of the theatre, since it emphasised its architectural values as a free-standing building. Moreover, the nearby standing Gothic churches (Saint Dorota’s and Corpus Christi) were the points of reference which helped reveal the scale of the building. In addition, the Miejski Theatre located in this place became an important element of the vast space of the Wrocław ‘forum’, having being formed in the 1840s on the initiative of the king and the government on one side, the local authorities and corporations on the other side, as well as private citizens. All new and important monumental buildings of Wrocław gathered around Ćwiczeń Square. Apart from the Miejski Theatre, these were primarily the new royal palace, the headquarters of the gendarmerie, the building of the Local Parliament and slightly later the first impressive building of the bank, the ‘Pokoyhof’, the New Stock Exchange and on the other side of the moat, a magnificent court with an impressive tower and representative barracks. [1]

The edifice, founded on the plan of an elongated rectangle, was equipped with the façade and the main entrance in the narrower (east) elevation from Świdnicka Street. Into the compact rectangle of the plan was inscribed another, slightly smaller, inner rectangle comprising the basic parts of the theatre: a deep stage with the backstage (to the west), a horseshoe-shaped auditorium with adjoining corridors and staircases (to the east). The core of the theatre was surrounded on all sides by sets of rooms, both representative (the vestibule, the foyer, the reception area, the café) and ancillary (dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, storerooms etc.) They were all strictly enclosed in the rectangular plan of the whole. The compact plan was generally based on one main axis running from the portico and the main entrance through the vestibule (over which there was the foyer on the first floor) and the auditorium to the key point of the stage.

The plan and the layout of the interiors had a considerable influence on the external shape of the four-storey building that consisted only of three strongly separated, as if independently juxtaposed blocks. The huge basic three-storey block (11 by 15 window axes) was covered with a four-sided, flattened roof, invisible from the level of the street. The superstructure, as simple as the basic block, crowned the main area with the stage and the audience. The superstructure, housing the flies and ancillary rooms, was covered with a flattened gable roof, its eastern and western gable walls being crowned with pediments.

In front of the building (in Świdnicka Street) there was a strongly projecting portico (the driveway led here) in the small order with four massive piers supporting the balcony on the first floor, bordered with a full balustrade. The radical stereometric values of the building were emphasised by vertical and horizontal architectural partitions.

There is no doubt that Langhans used the rule of the French revolutionary architects on the design, whereby not only should the building perform a practical role, but it should also represent it in the external appearance. This is why particular blocks of the edifice (the portico, the main block, the flies), which rose higher and higher, dynamised the whole building and equally informed about the role and the purpose of the parts separated this way. The Miejski Theatre in Wrocław was the first theatre building that young Langhans managed to complete. [2]

The present appearance of the building was influenced by its later fate, and particularly two fires: in 1865 and 1871. After the first fire, Carl Lüdecke, who was entrusted with the reconstruction, introduced quite important changes between 1865 and 1867.

Nevertheless, the theatre soon changed its appearance again as a result of the reconstruction after the second fire. Strange as it may seem, instead of addressing a specific architect or a company to have the design made, it was decided to choose the design through a competition.

Although the submitted designs are not known (apart from those chosen to be implemented), it is certain that three architects participated in the competition, along with Carl Schmidt: Gustav Ebe, Julius Benda and G. Hildebrand, ‘unknown to anybody’. The first two architects had been friends since they had studied at a Berlin school. After graduating they visited Europe together and in 1869 they set up an architectural company and they took part in the Wrocław competition as Ebe & Benda.

 The double tragic experience inclined the Wrocław Association of Architects and Engineers evaluating the competition entries to pay particular attention to fire protection. Finally, still in November 1871, the general meeting of the association approved the design by Carl Schmidt, one of the best architects acting in the city at that time, also experienced at engineering matters.

As the base of the edifice Schmidt used the core structure of the building by Langhans, enlarged by Lüdecke. He retained the main axis of the whole building. However, both the relation between blocks of the building and the appearance of the auditorium were essentially changed. In the interior of the same height (heightened by Lüdecke) the proscenium area was widened at the cost of places on balconies and finally it occupied half of the auditorium. In the proscenium area Schmidt replaced the upper box with a wooden facette, as well as slightly heightened the stage portal. The changes were emphasised by rich interior decorations. The proscenium was separated by the architectural frame as a monumental block where boxes on the ground floor served a pedestal for the royal box. It reached the third floor and was flanked by giant order pilasters. The crowning was decorated with figures of winged genius. The facette was articulatedby huge brackets supporting the ceiling.The stage portal set with a segmental arch with caissons and a large frame corresponded in the design to the form of boxes.

The interior was enriched with painted and stucco decoration, whose core was the painting on the ceiling, in the part corresponding to the proscenium boxes. It depicts a half-naked Apollo raising over four dashing horses. The youthful god of the sun and of poetry is surrounded by the Muses and the Graces facing him. The ceiling over the other part of the auditorium was finished differently: the semicircular shape of the house was emphasised here by radial stucco composition, consisting of medallions with images of outstanding German artists (Glück, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Lessing, Schiller, Haydn, Meyerbeer and Wagner). The stucco figures of Athena with an owl and Apollo with a swan by the stage portal correspond with the ceiling composed this way.

The pathos and the richness of the external appearance of the building corresponded to the new luxurious appearance of the auditorium. The thorough change of the character of the interior (generally based on Langhans’ building) resulted from several factors. The most important innovation, which generally changed Langhans’ conception, was the elimination of the superstructure towering high over the main block, housing flies and (in the front part) various ancillary rooms. Admittedly, Schmidt retained the superstructure over the stage, indispensable for the theatre and housing the flies (in the western part of the main block).

The entirely new formation of a giant three-storey portico, enlarged by two axes was as important as the elimination of the superstructure. The portico became the most significant element of the building, imposing on it a quality of ‘imperious representation’. The portico was crowned with a pediment where a sculptured decoration depicting a meeting of gods listening to the poetry sung by Apollo was to be placed. However, the attraction is drawn not only by the contents of the scene in the pediment, but also by the elaboration of the wall at the back of the portico. The partitions that were used: French windows set with semicircular arches and round recesses above them with sculptured busts of great poets and composers: Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven, clearly referred to the shape of the Renaissance loggia. The monumental architecture of the building, provoking associations with the Renaissance-Neoclassical palace, was a result of the new approach to the theatre itself.

Primarily, the time that had elapsed since the construction of the theatres at the beginning of the 19th century brought a number of new theatre buildings. Although their authors relied either on French patterns or the achievements by Karl Friedrich Schinkel or Gottfried Semper, it was also the period of searching for new, more appropriate solutions. The term ‘appropriateness’ refers here not only to changes being the result of technical improvements or improving the security, but also to those imposed by esthetical matters.

Bożena Grzegorczyk

[1] Bożena Grzegorczyk, Trzy oblicza wrocławskiego Teatru Miejskiego, [in:] Dylematy klasycyzmu, pod red. Zofii Ostrowskiej-Kębłowskiej, Historia Sztuki VIII, Wrocław 1994, pp. 136-137.

[2] The architect had designed the theatre buildings in Berlin (1817) and in Dresden (1835).

 

 

Literature:

  1. Grzegorczyk  B., Architektura i budownictwo teatralne. we Wrocławiu od około 1770 roku do schyłku XIX wieku, Wrocław 2000.
  2. Król-Kaczorowska B., Teatr Dawnej Polski. Budynki, dekoracje, kostiumy, Warszawa 1971.

 

 

Authors: Anna Turowiec, Bożena Grzegorczyk

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