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Theater an der Wien

Franz Jäger the Elder

alias Playhouse of imperial and royal privilege Theater an der Wien, Kaiserl. Königl. privilegiertes Schauspielhaus Theater an der Wien, Theater an der Wien -The New Opera House
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1801 | construction
The building was designed by the architect Franz Jäger in Empire style (it has since been remodelled). Construction was completed in 1801. The theatre has been described as "the most lavishly equipped and one of the largest theatres of its age."
(detail)13.6.1801 | Opening night

The theatre opened on 13 June 1801 with a prologue written by Schikaneder followed by a performance of the opera "Alexander" by Franz Teyber. After only two years the patron and his impresario have fallen out and gone bankrupt. Schikaneder is forced to sell the theatre to his bitterest enemy, Peter Freiherr von Braun. However, being in possession of the imperial privilege (as shown by the eagle over the Papageno gate that is still visible today) he retains the post of artistic director and appoints Ludwig van Beethoven director of music and resident composer. On 3rd April 1803 Beethoven’s oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, his 2nd Symphony and his piano concerto in C minor are premiered in an “academy”.

(detail)19. century | ownership
The theatre was the brainchild of the Viennese theatrical impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, who is best known to history as Mozart's librettist and collaborator on the opera The Magic Flute (1791). Schikaneder’s troupe had already been successfully performing for several years in Vienna in the smaller (800 seat) Theatre auf der Wieden, where The Magic Flute had premiered. Schikaneder, whose performances often emphasized spectacle and scenery, felt ready to move to a larger and better equipped venue. He had already been granted an imperial licence to build a new theatre in 1786, but it was only in 1798 that he felt ready to act on this authorization. After only two years after the opening of the theatre, the patron and his impresario have fallen out and gone bankrupt. Schikaneder was forced to sell the theatre to his bitterest enemy, Peter Freiherr von Braun. However, being in possession of the imperial privilege (as shown by the eagle over the Papageno gate that is still visible today) he retains the post of artistic director and appoints Ludwig van Beethoven director of music and resident composer. On 3rd April 1803 Beethoven’s oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, his 2nd Symphony and his piano concerto in C minor are premiered in an “academy”. In 1807, the theatre was acquired by a group of court nobles that included Count Ferdinand Palffy von Erdöd, who bought the theatre outright in 1813. During the period of his proprietorship, which lasted until 1826, he offered opera and ballet and, to appeal to a wider Viennese audience, popular pantomime and variety acts, losing money in elaborate spectacles until he was forced to sell the theatre at auction in 1820.
(detail)1838 | alteration
The auditorium was redecorated in green and silver colours.
(detail)1845 | Reconstruction
Designed by C. Latzel (Indentation of the understage and implementation of modern stage machinery; removal of the auditorium’s second parterre; integration of new stage lighting - candles; oil, petroleum and gas lamps). The today’s painted ceiling was completed.
(detail)1864 | curtain
Friedrich painted the still preserved main curtain in 1864, depicting a scene from “The Magic Flute” and important people from the more recent history of this theatre.
(detail)1902 | Completion of the reconstruction

Between 1900 and 1901, the architects Fellner & Helmer built a new 5-storey apartment house in front of the theatre; in the theatre itself, the 4th circle was demolished and the wooden construction of the understage replaced in steel and brick.

(detail)1955 | closure
The theatre experienced a golden age during the era of the Viennese operetta. From 1945 to 1955, it was one of the temporary homes of the Vienna State Opera, whose own building had been partly destroyed by bombs during World War II. In 1955, the theatre was closed for safety reasons. It languished unused for several years, even being threatened to be converted to a garage.
(detail)1962 | Reopening after reconstruction

In 1962 the theatre found a new and successful role as a festival venue for the “Wiener Festwochen” after having undergone a reconstruction by Otto Niedermoser. The auditorium was restored to the 1838 colour design, frescoes and other stucco work brushed up, a heating- and air-conditioning system as well as a revolving stage and a new headlamp system introduced.

(detail)2006 | other
In 2006, Mozart’s 250th anniversary, the Theater an der Wien presented a series of major Mozart operas – the starting point for its new use as Vienna’s new opera house. Once suburban, the location is now central, alongside the stalls and restaurants of the popular Naschmarkt. Originally, it was “more spacious than any in Vienna”, with a capacity of almost 2,000 whereas today it seats 950. The original part of the facade, the “Papagenotor“ (Papageno gate), is a monument to Schikaneder, who is depicted in the role of Papageno in “The Magic Flute”, a role he wrote for himself. He is shown with his three children, playing the Three Boys in the same opera.


Franz Jäger the Elder |main architect
(detail)Hermann Helmer |architect
The phenomenon of the architects Fellner and Helmer would be difficult to capture with only one building. Their work consisted of continual, although somewhat stereotypical, work in terms of style. They placed a great emphasis on achieving the technical-operational needs of theatre buildings. They created a large number of theatres (mainly national theatres) in Central Europe - Austria, Croatia, Romania, the Czech Republic, etc.More theatres

Josef Reymund |architect
Mathias Gail |painter
Jacob Schroth |sculptor
Emanuel Schikaneder |Commissioned by


The success of Mozart’s Magic Flute at the Freihaus theatre encouraged actor,  librettist and director of the Freihaus theatre, Emanuel Schikaneder, to have the Theater an der Wien (Theatre on the River Wien) built at Laimgrube an der Wien 26, on the left bank of the River Wien. Having written the libretto, Schikaneder also played the part of Papageno at the premiere of Mozart’s masterwork, being apparently one of the most industrious figures in Viennese theatre at the time. With the financial support of Schikaneder’s fellow mason, the proprietor of the Freihaus theatre Bartolomäus Zitterbarth, the theatre was built between 1800 and 1801 and the run down Freihaus theatre was closed. Court architect Rosenstängel designed the building and construction was supervised by the (civic) builder Anton Jäger and his father Franz Jäger, a civic as well as court stonemason.

Being one of the well-known suburban theatres, along with the theatre in Josefstadt and the Leopoldstadt Theatre, the Theater an der Wien remained Vienna’s most modern and largest theatre until the erection of the new Court Opera in 1869. Its complex stagecraft and auditorium’s architectural features were admired by aristocratic and suburban audience alike. Compared with other court theatres, the Theater an der Wien was equipped with more comfortable seats, and also provided a better view of the stage from the boxes. The theatre’s simple Empire Style portal on the main front, through which the nobility and those holding box seats had their separate entrance, is furnished with a sandstone sculpture by Jakob Schroth featuring Emanuel Schikaneder as the birdcatcher Papageno, and his children as three boys from the Magic Flute (‘Papagenotor’), thus forming a memorial to him. The house underwent several major changes, being enlarged only twenty years aft er its opening. In 1838 the auditorium was restored, and the interior, originally blue-silver, was redecorated in red and gold. The Papageno Gate was expanded to include three gates in 1845, and modern machines were installed in the stage section. In 1854,  the trabeated ceiling of the auditorium was furnished with paintings of the nine Muses by Josef Geyling the Elder, which were restored in 1962.

Architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer were in charge of a major renovation in 1901 when the fourth gallery of the U-shaped auditorium and parts of the pillars adorned with Atlantes were removed. A Biedermeier building at the front was pulled down and replaced by a four-storey apartment building in fin de siècle style, combining elements of Historicism and Modernism. The theatre’s vicinity was likewise subject to several changes. After the River Wien was covered over in 1910, the popular Viennese market Naschmarkt was set up in the theatre’s immediate neighbourhood. In 1938 when the theatre’s general manager Arthur Hellmer had returned his concession and was forced to emigrate because he was considered ‘Jewish’ by the Nazi race doctrine, the house was closed. Although the Theater an der Wien was host to occasional guest performances up to 1945, necessary refurbishments were not carried out because of the war and so the theatre’s regular business was not carried on.

From 1945 to 1955 the Theater an der Wien was used as a stage for the destroyed Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), aft er which time there were plans to turn it into a cinema or a garage. However, this fate was avoided when the City of Vienna became the legal owner in 1960.  Between 1960 and 1962 the theatre was rebuilt by architect Otto Niedermoser, expanding the listed building through loft conversions and additional basements, creating more space for the audience and stagecraft including, for example, the installation of a revolving stage. Niedermoser also participated in the reconstruction of the Vienna State Opera. His architectural style is characteristic of a certain sobriety following simple and functional criteria. Despite his wide-ranging activities as a builder in film and theatre, he was also very active as an architect, rebuilding various theatres as well as private houses in Vienna and contributing to the construction of the Werkbundsiedlung  (Werkbund Housing Estate) in the 1920s.

The Theater an der Wien is used as a venue for performances of various genres, depending on the respective proprietor and contemporary taste. At the time of its inception it presented operas (such as Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio in 1805), spectacular epic operas, and later Viennese folk plays, especially by Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nestroy. From the 1870s onwards not only operettas but also critical folk plays (e.g. by Ludwig Anzengruber) came to be performed. At the turn of the century the theatre became a stronghold of operetta by Franz Lehár and Emmerich Kálmán. In the 1960s the Theater an der Wien was also used for the Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival), and over the next three decades it gained an international reputation as a famous European venue for musicals. Since 2006 the theatre has been staging operas as well as hosting the Vienna Festival.



Tickets: +43 (0) 1 588-85
Tel. infos: +43 (0) 1 588-30-660
E-mail: oper@theater-wien.at
http://www.theater-wien.at/index.php/en/guided_tours www.youtube.com/user/theateranderwien


Visits: guided tours regularly (see website for dates) ∙ guided tours for groups on appointment


Tags: Habsburg monarchy


Authors: Brigitte Marschall, Fritz Trümpi, Carsten Jung

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