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Cuvilliés Theater

Francois Cuvilliés

alias Opernhaus, Altes Residenztheater
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1657 | construction
The first theatre at the Salvatorplatz named Opernhaus was erected.
(detail)50. 's 18. century | construction
Built 1751-1755 for Kurfürst Max III. Joseph von Bayern by François Cuvilliés.
(detail)12.10.1753 | opening
Opened on 12th October of 1753 with Ferrandini's "Catone in Utica".
(detail)1944 | destroyed
Originally the theatre was located where the present (New) Residence Theatre stands; after its destruction in World War II, the theatre was rebuilt in a wing of the Residence.
(detail)50. 's 20. century | reconstruction
Auditorium was renovated in 1856-1857 and moved in 1956-1958 to an other place in the Residentzplatz and re-opened in 1958 with a performance of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.


(detail)Francois Cuvilliés |main architect

Few architectural careers can have followed a stranger course than that of Cuvillies. Born in Flanders in 1695, he had come to Bavaria as a professional dwarf, then trained as an engineer, and had then been sent to Paris to study architecture under Jean Francois Blondel. He returned to Munich as the ambassador of a new style, uniting in a seemingly effortless way the energy and richness of the Germans with French daintiness and discipline. He remained essentially a decorator, unable to challenge his German contemporaries (Neumann, Fischer, Zimmermann) in pure architectural virtuosity, the moulding and mani¬pulation of space.


IN: Tidworth, Simon : Theatres: An Illustrated History. London 1973 p. 90

Lorenzo Quaglio |architect


For the true flower of German Rococo one must go to Munich. Here Francois de Cuvillies, Court Architect to the Elector Maximilian III Joseph, was commissioned to add a theatre to his master's palace, the Residenz. To create the Residenztheater some of the best craftsmen in Germany were appointed to assist him—the court joiner, Adam Pichler, to do the woodwork, the sculptors Joachim Dietrich and Johann Baptist Straub, the painter Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Stage machinery was in the hands of an Italian, Paolo Gasparo. The new theatre opened three years later, on 12 October 1753, with Ferrandini's II Catone in Utica. Cuvillies' ground-plan is not of any special interest. His auditorium was the conventional U-shape, with four levels of galleries. His proscenium arch rested on pairs of red imitation marble columns, with the stage itself projecting as far as the outer pair, and the ceiling above them diminishing in perspective (the inner pair were therefore slightly shorter than the outer). The space between each pair held two boxes, so that it belonged equally to the actors and the audience. In the modern, rebuilt, theatre, this space has been given to the orchestra, which originally sat further forward. Staircases were functional rather than ostentatious and, apart from the auditorium, only the apartment behind the Elector's box received any elaborate decoration. As there was no space behind the stage for the actors, their rooms and those of the property men and scene painters lay along the sides of the theatre behind the boxes. All these arrangements were swept away when the theatre was rebuilt on a different site (though still within the Residenz) in the 1905. The distinctive glory of the Residenztheater is its decoration, conceived by Cuvillies and executed by artists of superlative talent. Its leitmotiv is the arabesque curve, which everywhere accompanies and softens, though it never conceals, the main architectural lines of the building. The second tier is the most lavishly treated. Swags of gilded fruit and foliage hang above the boxes, which are separated from one another by caryatid figures ending in candelabra. Over the balustrades crimson velvet drapery, edged with gold, has apparently been carelessly thrown. The climax of the whole scheme is the Elector's own box. Supported on two over life-size caryatids and framed by fantastic golden palms, it is surmounted by a blazon of heraldic motifs, cupids and crowns, while an angel leans out into space and blows a long golden trumpet. The theatre is lit by candelabra projecting from the galleries at each level and by chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The stalls were slightly raked but for special occasions it could still be turned into a ballroom by raising the floor of the auditorium to the level of the stage. The details of this whole rich ensemble are a constant delight, overflow¬ing with wit and unexpected invention. Here a Turk's head, with flowing moustache and golden turban, peeps out from a cartouche; there a spray of wheat or oak leaves climbs unnoticed over a moulding, or a group of perfectly carved pipes, drums and violins hangs waiting for some exuberant musical putti to snatch them up. Not all of it is original. The theatre was gutted in 1944, but enough of its decoration was saved to make possible what has been probably the most loving and successful of all postwar restorations. Only the ceiling, by Johann Baptist Zimmermann, has been lost for ever.


In: Tidworth, Simon : Theatres: An Illustrated History. London 1973 p. 92




Author: Simon Tidworth

Additional information

The image on top of the page (next to the address) does not show the entrance to the Cuveilles-Theater, but the post-war "[Neues] Residenztheater" that was built were the Cuveilles-Theater was located before the war.

AndreasP - 23.05. 2022

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