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New Czech Theatre in the Růžová Street

Johann Heinrich Frenzel

alias Neue Theater in der Rosengasse
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)28.10.1842 | opening

(detail)1846 | closure


(detail)Johann Heinrich Frenzel |main architect
Prague builder, who is known only because of his building activity between 1835 - 1856 as he designed and built several residential buildings mainly in Old Town in Prague. Source : Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 186, Praha 2004.

(detail)Tobiáš Mössner |painter

German painter. He arrived to Prague in 1834 and became a painter of sceneries for Estate Theatre (1847 - 1869). Since 1862, he worked for Provisional Theatre as well. He started by perspective illusionistic Baroque scene of Galli-bibien type, but he endeavoured to cope with new impulses of Romantic scene.

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The 1840s were a period of increased activity of Czech patriots.  The core of these efforts was to build up high culture that would be on the same developed level as the German one.  The language became the centre of attention.  One of the goals of revivalist patriots was to build a professional Czech venue.  Sometimes the amateur theatre in the Kajetán House was understood as its initial stage, in which some members of Czech intelligence performed.  Their comprehension of the theatre wasn't confined to a source of pastime and aesthetic enjoyment but it served the ideological function to a large degree as well.


The emergence of the New Czech Theatre in the Růžová Street (Rosengasse) was a result of business activities of August Stöger, the director of the Estates Theatre of that time.  The theatre was owned by the nobility and its provincial committee rented it to theatre entrepreneurs.  The rental of the theatre also contained the privilege of organizing ridottos and balls, for which this tenant decided to build a new building to the design by Jan Jindřich Frenzel.  The design was approved in September of 1839 and the foundation stone was laid on 6th May of 1840.  The construction was finished already in the same year and the inaugural ridotto took place on 24th January of 1841.


So a space came into existence serving as a social centre where dance parties, balls and concerts were organized.  However, this activity of its tenant caused displeasure to the members of the theatre's supervisory board and the Stöger's privilege of organizing ridottos was revoked in a very short time.  He then was looking for a way of how to appreciate his investment and he subsequently had the hall be converted into theatre with the intent to translate here the Czech afternoon performances from the Estates Theatres from Sundays and holidays.  These performances enjoyed high attendance, but it was also a target for criticism by aristocratic owners of the theatre.  So an independent Czech venue with a professional company would come into existence and that was what the Revivalist were striving for - a parallel of a national theatre.  The conversion was carried out by builder Jiří Webe. The theatre was ceremonially opened with the premier of the original Czech play Karel Škréta, a Czech painter by J. A. Svoboda (adapted by J. K. Tyl ). The inaugural evening took place on 28. October of 1842 with the name the "New Czech Theatre in the Růžová Street".


Czech press was full of enthusiasm in this time and celebrated Stöger, a German, about who some revivalist shared concerns that he would stop Czech plays in the Estates Theatre ten years ago, as a founder of the Czech theatre.  They also valued highly the imposing architecture and equipment of the theatre.  The periodical Kwety compared it to a smaller court theatre that would surpass as much as equipment and sceneries concerns.  Painter Tobiáš Mössner carried out the decoration of the proscenium arch and the first curtain, which depicted a " treelike formation from both the sides, a path between them, a Muse on it guiding a disciple and pointing out to the distance where the Prague castle protrudes from the horizon.“ (Kwety, 8.10. 1842, N. 80)  10. 1842, č 80). There were busts of Schiller on the right and Mozart on the left with symbols of poetry and music on the sides of the proscenium arch.


The theatre hall had the dimension of 29 x 19 metres in plan in the ground floor and further three storeys up to the roof.  The auditorium had 19 boxes in the dress circle on thick columns and 2 galleries above it.  Up to 700 standing rooms were available next to the 323 seats covered in red in the stalls.  The stage was 9 metres wide and 12 metres deep and it was equipped by the most modern technology of that time.  The literature states various capacity that probably could reach up to 2 500 spectators.


Stöger assembled Czech theatre company where many young actors from the Kajetán theatre were present including dramaturge Josef  Kajetán Tyl himself and an independent choir and orchestra.  The enthusiasm of the Czech press subsided soon, because the structure and possibilities of the Czech audience demonstrated that the petty craftsmen didn't either have enough time or desire to regularly attend the theatre and so the plays in Czech were soon to be withdrawn and replaced by German ones.  The venue became bilingual already after three months of staging.  Whereas the Estates theatre with 600 seats could be full at holidays and Sundays, the hall of the new theatre with almost 2 500 seats couldn't provide such a success for three evenings a week.  In a short time, German epic plays and farces started appearing in the repertoire whereas the quality of Czech plays declined.  It occurred again as it happened in the case of the Kajetán Theatre that Josef Kajetán Tyl got into personal disputes, this time with J. J. Kolár. Apart of that, the building committee found a large number of shortcomings in the building and their elimination required additional costs.


The entire attempt with theatre demonstrated that the Czech theatre didn't have a sufficiently large  clientèle for a venue, which could accommodate such number of spectators.  It caused a considerable financial loses to its owner.  The movement, in which centre the improvement of the Czech language played a central role, was for the time being confined to a thin class of Revivalists and it wasn't shared by the majority of inhabitants who didn't consider going to theatre to be an issue of the national pride, of a kind of emotion about his participation on the high culture.  


Whereas the initial enthusiasm was carried by the vision that the theatre would improve the Czech culture, very shortly the low attendance productions declined steadily.  The rooms were then used to commercial purposes.  The last performance was staged on 2nd April of 1846. The building was bought by the state and converted into a pawnshop.



Sources and literature: 


VONDRÁČEK, Jan. Dějiny českého divadla. Doba předbřeznová 1824-1846. 1. vyd. Praha: Orbis, 1957. 490, [ii] s., [46] s. obr. příl. Knihovna divadelní tvorby.


NOVOTNÝ, Antonín. Staropražská theatralia: materialie k dějinám pražského divadelnictví. Praha: Čs. divadelní a literární jednat., 1955. 155, [7], 20 s. obr. příl.


CZESANÝ, Alois, ed. Památník českých divadel: historický nástin vývoje českého divadla. V Praze: Družstvo Národního divadla, 1891. 135 s., [7] s. obr. příl.


Tags: Austrian Empire, Biedermeier


Author: Jan Purkert

Translator: Jan Purkert

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