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Palace Theatre in Litomyšl

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1767 | First theatre was established

(detail)1768 | Not finished theatre building burnt down

(detail)1798 | opening

People

(detail)Josef Platzer |painter

Painter and stage designer. Born in Prague  but he worked mainly in Vienna after his studies. His first major assignment for theatre was the complete stock scenery for the new Nostitz (Estate) Theatre in Prague from 1781–1783, which launched his career of a successful court theatre painter. He painted numerous and highly valued sceneries for the court theatre in Vienna and numerous private theatres since the beginning of the 1790s. Apart of hanging paintings of architecture and large set of design drawings, there has been preserved   unique set of his stage sceneries for the castle theatre in Litomyšl.

More theatres

(detail)Dominik Dvořák |painter
Author of the painting in auditorium and stage portal.

(detail)Jiří Bartoš |sculptor
Woodcarver, the author of decoration.

(detail)Václav Bonaventura |interior designer
joiner , author of the stage machinery.

(detail)Jan Birno |interior designer
Gilder.

(detail)Jiří Kristián z Valdštějna-Vartemberka |Commissioned by
Member of Czech nobility, who initiated the construction of the first casle theatre in Litomyšl.

History


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Litomyšl château, built over the years 1567–1581 for Vratislav of Pernštejn, ranks among the most significant buildings of Renaissance architecture in the Czech Republic. The décor and furnishings of its interiors, however, are to a large extent from the end of the 18th century when the  château was the property of the counts of Valdštejn-Vartemberk.

Jiří Kristián of Valdštejn-Vartemberk (1743–1791) tried to build the,  in all probability, first theatre in the Litomyšl château in the year 1767. The hall in the north-east corner of the second floor , burnt down, however, over the course of the construction of the theatre in January 1768 and there is no further information regarding the continuation of the building after the fire. The preserved, demanding look of the auditorium, opening up the side walls of the hall to illusive galleries behind the balustrade, could testify, however, to the fact that the theatre might have been completed at a later point. 

The second theatre in the Litomyšl château was situated in the present-day so-called Congress Hall on the ground floor of the northern part of the western wing. It was in all probability built at the initiative of Count Jiří Josef of Valdštejn-Vartemberk (1768–1825) in the year 1791 after taking over the estate. The simple décor of the auditorium would seem to confirm the temporary character of the theatre.

Large-scale adaptations to the dwelling and ceremonial areas of the château took place in the 1790s at the instigation of Jiří Josef. This culminated in the construction of a new, still preserved theatre, on the ground floor of the western wing of the château. The course of the construction is well documented with the building bills. The author of the design of the new theatre is, however, still unknown.

In November 1796 information regarding the flooring of the defunct theatre appears, with it being at the same time adapted to a cloak room (later a storage for decorations as well) and a month later building adaptations began in the spaces south of the existing theatre.

The new theatre was placed into the hall on the ground floor of the western wing of the château which came into being by joining up the former salt cellar and washroom. The entrance to the hall from the arcades was reconstructed (new side doors were created from the window openings along the sides of the original central doors). The floor was decreased and a new door was created leading into the adjoining corridor. Two new windows were created for lighting the future below stage space in the walls facing the garden. In February 1797 the paving was completed, the wood was in the process of preparation for the floor and construction of the balcony had been undertaken. The final mentioned aspect was completed in March and construction of the stage was begun. The floor was laid while the stairway to the balcony was started. Over the course of the spring months construction of the stage was completed. The building of the theatre was finally completed in July and the painting decoration of the auditorium in August.

The theatre hall with dimensions of approximately 10 x 20 metres has cylindrical vaulting with  lunette sectors. Entrance is through a trio of doors from the arcade courtyard and from a pair of doors from the adjoining corridor. Two doors are located in deep niches in the wall behind the stage, while two windows, walled up in the year 1983, originally lit up the space under the stage. A group of three small windows above the doors from the arcade light up the corridor behind the boxes on the auditorium floor.

The stage border divides the theatre up into approximately equal parts. The stage has a depth of 10 metres and a performance area of a width of  6 metres and a depth of 8 metres. The stage border is 6 metres wide and 4 metres high.

A wooden partition in the front part of the auditorium marks off the approximately 2 metre deep orchestra pit. A similar partition divides the auditorium from the front and rear pits from the year 1974: the rear parts were only accessible from the central door from the arcades, while the front parts (and from there the balcony) only by side doors or doors from the corridor.

The floor of the auditorium slants from the entrance doors in the direction of the orchestra pit, with a group of three stairways therefore leading from the corridor doors to the front parts of the auditorium. Wooden walls divide up the particular entrances to the theatre along the walls of the rear parts of the ground floor; the stairways to the balcony are situated in these consequent side corridors. The balcony is designed with a  U-shaped floor plan and supported by cuboid columns with scrolled capitals which also divide up the particular sections of the balcony. The centre is taken up by the actual count's box, followed by short undivided sections and finally one smaller box on each side near the stage border. The count's box is entered through two-wing doors with a staircase leading from the front boxes to the backstage. The auditorium is decorated with gilded coats-of-arms: above the stage border is the Valdštejn coat-of-arms, while above the count's box is the alliance Valdštejn-Hohenfeld. Both coats-of-arms and a lyre in rays of light on the ceiling were carved by Jiří Bartoš and coloured and gilded by Jan Birno.

The author of the décor of the auditorium and stage border was the Valdštejn painter Dominik Dvořák. The Classicist décor which Dvořák had richly developed in previous years in the château rooms on the upper floor here moved into light shades of green, grey, and pink; at the foot of the stage border he added a pair of additional cherubs playing on musical instruments. The décor is supplemented by painted red drapery with gilded edges. The count's box, whose interior is additionally coated with canvas, contains four oil paintings on paper, wherein an unknown painter depicts the renowned dancer Salvatore Viganò and his wife Maria Medina in dancing poses.

The auditorium is at present only lit by two-armed candle holders on the columns of the balcony. They were originally supplemented by two three-armed candle holders on the columns along the sides of the count's box; additional lights were situated in small niches in the walls on the ground floor and on the stairways. Original benches for approximately 120–150 people have been preserved in the auditorium.

All of the construction elements in the theatre including the floor are from wood; the below-stage area has brick paving.

The front edge of the stage is 95 cm in height above the floor of the auditorium. The below-stage area is reached by a small staircase under a pair of doors behind the stage border (from there the prompter's box was accessible in the centre of the fore-stage as well as the manipulation of the lighting ramps) or from the door in the upstage (from where one could control changing of the side scenes).

The beamed construction above the stage leaned upon the floor of the stage and was anchored above in the vaulting. The beams along the sides of the stage bear up the grid ceiling.

Changes in the plans came about over the course of the construction of the stage with the construction of the ceiling increased to twice the height of the original conception through a technically interesting means. This increase also served to enlarge the stage border; under the foot of the pilasters, along both sides of the border, supplements were inserted with painting work imitating marble and in the fore-stage where the ceiling had been increased above the space for drawing the curtain, parts of the vaulted plaster had to be drilled into on both sides.

In the original plan the ceiling of the stage was to have been decreased in the direction of the auditorium. The present longitudinal ceiling was to have been placed approximately 30 cm lower on the side of the border and about 45 cm lower at the rear wall of the stage. The ceiling was intended to drop downward from the direction of the auditorium – at a length of 10 metres – 15 cm (with the floor of the stage increasing at the same angle). The border winches were to be at the same slant. The reasons behind this technically demanding increase of the construction are not known as yet.

The stage of the theatre was equipped by the cabinet-maker Václav Bonaventura with machinery for controlling the changing of the decorations on the open scene as well as creating simple light and sound effects. This machinery is preserved up until the present to an almost complete extent.

Under the floor of the stage is equipment for changing the side wings. Six pairs of sliding frames on each side of the stage move along wooden wheels in simple tracks. The frames move through openings in the floor above the stage where the side wings were installed. Lines led from the frames to a winch, leading through the longitudinal axis of the below-stage area; turning brought about the change with each set of scenes appearing on stage and the second disappearing back stage.

Two winches, similar to those under the stage, hung along the sides of the ceiling construction above the stage. These served for controlling and changing the borders.

The curtains and back-cloths were dropped or wound up through the help of lines, leading from the back of the decorations through metal rings and consequently along wooden pulleys to the ceiling on the left side of the stage. 

At the edge of the stage, along both sides of the prompter's box, was the lighting ramp with room for sixty lights which through the help of shafts, levers and simple gears could be employed under the stage. The side wings were always lit up by twelve lamps on still preserved stands. Turning of the stands, as well as releasing or sliding back the ramps, brought about darkening or lighting up of the stage.

One of the effect machines is still hanging at the back wall of the stage: this 'spray' is a long, narrow cupboard filled with the original grains and when moved would emit the sound of rain. The theatre equipment also included the no longer preserved effect machines for production of thunder and lightening.

A wide range of elements were employed during the construction of the stage, originating in all probability from the defunct older theatre (the used theatre border from this older theatre has also been preserved in archives). The secondary use of the construction of this older theatre also serves to explain the fragments of painting décor discovered during research work under the present layer of painting at a number of points in the theatre. The boards with older painting on the reverse side also served  for centring the beam of the stage border.

The auditorium is divided into two height levels by a built-in gallery of a horse-shoe shaped layout. This is held up by cuboid pillars which continue up into the first floor where they form divisions between the boxes.

An extremely significant part of the preserved furnishings consists of the original collection of stage decorations. Their author was Josef Platzer (1751–1806) one of the most renowned Central European scenographers of the 2nd half of the 18th century. Platzer was the author of the stage designs for the Prague Estates Theatre (1783), the Viennese court theatre (occasionally from 1781, from 1791 in the function of court theatre painter). He painted for the Litomyšl troupe more than 200 pieces of decoration from which one could arrange all of the basic scenes used at that period, including two curtains with architectural motifs. Three rows of borders were employed for almost two dozen variant scenes: borders with small drapery for large ceremonial halls and rooms, a timber ceiling for rural interiors and 'air' borders for exterior scenes. Prison scenes were designed in a different fashion with only changing 'arches' hanging in the same fashion as simple back-cloths from the space above the stage instead of side wings and borders. The collection also contains a range of supplementary scenes, built either amongst the side wings or directly on the stage space.

An unchanging part of all the decorations consisted of the drapery frame supplementing immediately from the edge of the scene the solid stage border (a similar later design exists in Kačina or Žleby).

The collection of decorations was further supplemented over the course of operations, such as for example in the year 1798 when one set was painted by Dominik Dvořák the author of the décor of the auditorium.

The Litomyšl Platzer decorations, one of the few collections of its kind in Central Europe, are along with the entire Litomyšl theatre, an artefact of worldwide importance. The theatre is a rare preserved example of a late Baroque created  miniature stage with a box auditorium, adapted for basic amateur operations. The simple machinery without trapdoors and other complicated parts corresponds to a well functioning repertoire: romantic plays and period farces which the amateur actors from the ranks of the aristocracy along with their employees carried out up until the middle of the 1840s. The theatre equipment has been preserved up until the present without major losses and includes a whole range of valuable details which make it possible to both understand and potentially even once again operate all of the original functions.

The theatre was electrified and made accessible to the public after research work by J. Hilmera in the year 1957. The plans from the beginning of the 1970s for major repairs and the establishment of an independent guided tour, which would have included major parts of the decorations and the replacement of two scenes for the operations of a stage were finally not realized. In the year 1973 only the paint work of the auditorium was carried out; at the same the partition was unnecessarily removed dividing the auditorium into a front and rear pit. Part of the décor was also restored. New research work and documentation of the theatre and its furnishings were carried out after the year  2000. The administrators have not, however, as yet expressed an interest in the needed restoration of the theatre which would restore it to a state corresponding to its undoubted importance. At present the theatre is only used sporadically for occasional performances and concerts. It is open to the public as part of the regular tours of the château.

 

Literature :

- Jiří Hilmera, Zámecké divadlo v Litomyšli, Zprávy památkové péče 17, 1957, n. 3–4, p. 113–138

- Jiří Hilmera, Divadelní život na litomyšlském zámku za Jiřího Josefa a Antonína z Valdštejna-Vartenberka, Časopis Národního muzea, oddíl společenských věd 133, 1964, n. 2, p. 97–105

- Jiří Bláha (ed.), Materiály k dějinám zámeckého divadla v Litomyšli, Litomyšl 2003

- Jiří Bláha – Ondřej Protiva, Průzkumy zámeckého divadla v Litomyšli, Zprávy památkové péče 64, n. 1, 2004, p. 32–37

- Frank Mohler – Jiří Bláha, The Chateau Theatre in Litomyšl and the Scenery of Josef Platzer, Theatre Design & Technology 60, n. 4, 2004, p. 24–31

- Jiří Bláha, Zámecké divadlo v Litomyšli, Nymburk 2011

 

Tags: Classicism, Palace theatre

 

Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: David Livingstone

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