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Theatre in Radziwiłłs' Palace

alias Pałac Radziwiłłów (Radziwiłłs' Palace, 1674-1818), Pałac Namiestnikowski (Namiestnikowski Palace, 1818-1918), Pałac Rady Ministrów (Ministry Palace, 1918-1939, 1945-1989), Deutsches Haus (1940-1944), Pałac Prezydencki (Presidential Palace, from 1993...), Pałac Lubomirskich (Lubomiskis' Palace, 1661-1674), Pałac Koniecpolskich (Koniecpolskis' Palace, 1641-1661)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1920 | rebuilding in 1818–1920

(detail)1852 | fire of the building

(detail)28.2.1674 | Michał Kazimierz I Radziwiłł bought the palace

(detail)1689 | renovation of the palace

(detail)1728 | renovation of the cave

(detail)1740 | minor repairs; for example: repair of chimneys

(detail)1643 | completion of construction of the palace

People

(detail)Konstanty (Constantino) Tencalla |architect
Representative of the early Baroque Roman; architects of kings Zygmunt III and Władysław IV.

(detail)Christian Piotr Aigner |architect
An architect and architectural theorist. He studied in Rome. He received grants from the Polish government. He represented a mature classicism.More theatres

(detail)Alfons Kropiwnicki |architect

He studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Warsaw. He participated in the construction of the Wielki Theatre in Warszawa. In 1843 he became the architect of Warsaw.


History

As a result of the demolition of the Operalnia (the Opera House), a new building for public theatre became an essential issue for the capital. Thus a new theatre enterprise was charged with erecting such an edifice. However, it was certainly easier to adapt an existing building to this purpose than to build a new one. So when the new entrepreneur, Austrian actor Józef von Kurz-Bernardon, came to Warsaw in 1773, his attention was drawn to the monumental Radziwiłł Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście […], which was at that time the property of Prince Karol "My Good Sir" Radziwiłł. The palace had been erected in 1643 by Stanisław Koniecpolski, and then passed into the ownership of the Lubomirski and the Radziwłł families. In the period after the Saxon Opera House was demolished, the palace was only used by its owner as a Warsaw retreat from his Lithuanian estate, so it was necessary only during the prince’s stay in the capital. However, the palatial room on the first floor could be perfectly used as a theatre auditorium. Previously, the rooms in the building had been rented out both as flats and to hold masked balls.

            Nevertheless, the theatre had to be arranged somehow. When Kurz rented the building and equipment in 1773 in order to renovate the building and install a theatre there, he was supported with “credit and cash” by Franciszek Ryx, the royal chamberlain and the Piaseczno starost, and enjoyed the king’s tacit support. The renovation of the palace and its conversion for theatre purposes started on 21 February 1773 and finished in May of that year. In April 1774, Kurz opened the theatre. However, information about the new theatre reached the audience earlier. On 15 April 1774, a Warsaw newspaper supplement reported that “The theatre in Radziwłł Palace has already been arranged and cleaned in the great rooms, where both deputations, that of Repnin and today’s one used to be received. The boxes are beautifully made, but they are quite expensive because of their small number – each of them will cost four hundred red zlotys a year. Seats in the stalls will cost 9 zlotys and upper boxes a few zlotys for one performance. [..] As the theatre, which cannot seat more than 200 in the stalls and another 200 or less in the boxes, will not attract many people, there is an idea of setting up a new club, not a literary one as it used to be, but a place to play cards and other games, which is acceptable next to a comedy theatre. The theatre entrepreneurs are said to have asked His Majesty the King, how he wanted to have his box decorated. His Majesty answered he did not need any box, since he would never go there. There is no reason for him to attend the theatre in view of his personal and common preoccupation in the country.” The palace was converted into a theatre with the participation of builder Gottfried Bittig.

            Kurz opened the enterprise on 30 April 1774 with Goldini’s and F.L. Gassmann’s opera L’Amore artigiano. However, the Austrian entrepreneur did not operate for a long time. As early as in June of that year, parliament granted a privilege under the name  Public Theatrum and “Masked Balls” Palace to Prince August Sułkowski. In exchange for undertaking to erect a theatre building at his own expense on the property known as Nowy Sułków, the new entrepreneur was to collect 1,000 Polish zlotys in silver (in the form of a grzywna) for every show or public party that would be organised outside of Sułków. As a result, Kurz had to give up the management of the theatre. 

            Nevertheless, for the time being, Sułkowski did not intend to start the costly erection of a theatre building. He decided to solve the problem by using an already existing room instead. He also considered the Radziwiłł Palace as appropriate for this purpose. The Prices of Places included in The Permission to open a comedy theatre in the Radziwiłł Palace from 24 April 1775, reveals that the theatre comprised stalls, boxes on the ground floor, on the first and the second floor, an upper circle and gods into the bargain. The room could seat about 500 people. Contemporaries unanimously stressed the large size of the theatre. In addition, there were “masked ball rooms” and the headquarters of the Noble Club in the palace. The club was established in 1774 and patterned on English clubs; it was made up of high class people descending from the highest aristocracy, with members gathering “to have fun or even talk about business.” The club was located in the palace “in rooms adjoining the new theatre.” Inside one could, at great expense, gamble or a have a meal. All the members of the club had permanent entry tickets, which were required in order to enter the club. However, as we can read in the regulations, during a performance the members of the club were allowed to enter the club as long as they bought a ticket for the show. From this we conclude that the club rooms could only be entered through the auditorium of the theatre.

            In June 1775, there was again work on the theatre. […] At that time a royal box was built, at the cost of 11,269 zlotys, with a separate entrance by stairs and an adjoining study. A path to the box was also traced through the cemetery of the Carmelite church. The building works were supervised, as previously, by Franciszek Ryx.

            The preserved bills give us a certain idea of how the box itself, and the study leading into it, looked. “New stairs”, leading into the box, were equipped with two windows (“two window frames”), in the evening the entrance was lit with candles (“a fabrication three cubits high on which to set candlesticks”). The royal box was covered with curtains and the floor was carpeted. Two door-curtains on copper rings hid a little corridor, the walls of which were covered with Viennese linen. A green curtain separated the corridor from the study (which the bill termed a “cloakroom”). The room was decorated with “furniture bought at Hampeln’s.” In addition, it was furnished with a mahogany desk with drawers, a little sofa and four “double framed” mirrors (presumably they consisted of three parts and had movable wings), decorated with flowers (“garni de fleurs avec des chapeaux de théâtre”).

            The theatre in the Radziwiłł Palace was in operation until 1778. Wojciech Bogusławski, who in that year moved into the Radziwiłł Palace and made his debut on its stage, first as an actor, and a dozen or so days later as an author, well remembered the liquidation of the theatre, writing about the circumstances accompanying the closure in “The History of the National Theatre” – “Until that moment, there was but one public theatre in the whole city, located in the palace of Prince Karol Radziwiłł, the voivode of Vilnius. The prince, who had been living in Paris since the end of the Bar Confederation, had made no suggestion of ever returning to his homeland. Nonetheless, the administrators of his lands unexpectedly received an order to arrange the palace in Warsaw for their returning master. Indeed, the order arrived when Prince Radziwiłł was a mere dozen miles away from the capital. The announcement of leaving the palace on short notice left both the entrepreneur (Montbrun) and all the artists in a state of shock and sorrow. However, pleas for time and sacrifices fell on deaf ears. All the theatre people had to leave the palace within forty-eight hours, and a week later the edifice was cleared of any remains of the theatre, with no trace of the temple of Thalia and Melpomene.”  In spite of numerous interventions and the resistance of actors, who barricaded themselves in the palace, so that the Marshall’s guards had to storm the building to let in the legitimate proprietor, the theatre was left without premises.

            First and foremost, Radziwiłł had the run-down palace redecorated, and a celebrated new theatre building was opened in Krasiński Square in 1779. However, when foreign actors or managers of a range of companies appeared in Warsaw, they installed themselves in the old headquarters of the theatre. In addition, masked balls were also held there. From the spring of 1781 onwards, a company of German actors, directed by Józef Constantini, performed in the theatre in the Radziwłł Palace. In the August of that year, Hamlet was performed on this stage, for the first time in Warsaw, under the title Hamlet, Prinz von Danmarh (remade by Schröder).

            In 1789, Prince Karol Radziwiłł held a marvellous feast in his palace to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation of King Stanisław Poniatowski. The splendour of the interior decoration was beyond anyone’s imagination. On that occasion, the participants danced in the building “which used to house a theatre,” as well as in three “huge masked ball rooms, joined to form one enfilade.” After 1790, when Prince Karol Radziwiłł died, the palace was still hired out as a theatre.

            In November 1793, the theatre housed a collection of wax figures from Paris; “Marat in the bath, killed by Charlotte Corday” was particularly recommended.  In July 1794, during the Kościuszko insurrection, the Supreme National Council allocated the theatre and “the masked ball rooms” in the Radziwiłl Palace to house a military field hospital “in the belief that it is decent to turn places that in the past were used for enjoyment and fun into a shelter for knights suffering for their motherland and freedom.”

            From 1795 to 1796, and into the early 1800s, there were two theatre rooms in the Radziwiłł Palace: the proper, large one and a little one, listed in the inventory as “Pimperle”. Pimperle is a character that still appears today in Czech puppet theatre. In July 1792, actor and puppet actor Gerhard Bressler (Presler), also known as “Little Pimperle”, acted in the Radziwiłł Palace in Warsaw “in a little local puppet theatre company”. It is very likely that the theatre for the puppet company was arranged around this time, and it was named after its creator and first actor.

            In 1795 the large theatre had three storeys of boxes, the stalls were covered in timber, and downstairs there was a “storeroom for various sets.” In the little theatre, known as Pimperle, there were eighteen boxes on the first floor and a gallery covered in timber on the second floor. In the stalls there were six benches, which at that time were not always used to sit on. According to one of the spectators, “Certain youngsters walk on the benches and mess them up with their shoes. Then you sit on them and soil your gown. Others climb on benches and stand there, blocking the view of other people, so that they can’t see actors.”

            From 11 October 1798 to 23 March 1799, a contract with Franciszek Le Doux was in force. He also rented five “masked ball rooms”, along with a kitchen, a pantry and a cellar “to organise dances and any decent parties,” From November 1803 to April 1804, the same entrepreneur rented “the comedy theatre in the palace, including the dressing room and all the facilities belonging to the theatre.”

            An agreement between Bogusławski and the administrator of the Radziwiłł Palace to lease the theatre mentioned one (large) room “along with a dressing room with a stove and a chimney at the back, a room for a buffet, a back entrance leading to the dressing room, all the sets, (…), lamps and equipment necessary to light the theatre, as well as seats for lords,  benches in the stalls, gallery and gods, and, finally, music stands.” Bogusławski also hired “masked ball rooms”, with a “stipulation” that “the roof over the theatre, as well as all the windows and doors be repaired immediately.” He also had to redecorate the interior of the show room. By all accounts, the building, through only occasional use, was in a state of disrepair.

            In 1913, Aleksander Rajchman wrote in “Kurier Warszawski” that the theatre in the Radziwiłł Palace could seat 600 people in the stalls, boxes and galleries. He must have had access to materials that no longer exist. However, he did not point out to which period of the theatre’s existence the information refers.

            Bogusławski’s company performed in the theatre until 1806. Then, in the winter of 1806/1807, the palace hosted a French company under Foures. The French were boycotted by Bogusławski’s supporters and backed by the circles connected with Prince Józef from the Copper-Roof Palace             (Pałac pod Blachą). There were fierce struggles in the auditorium. Early in 1806 opponents of the French threw “something terribly malodorous” into a stove. Another performance of the French company was interrupted by whistles from the audience. During yet another performance, the Prussian police entered the auditorium to conciliate the quarrelling parties with a show of arms.

            From 1815 to 1818 French and Polish actors performed here. The Polish had to use the stage in July 1816, while the building of the National Theatre in Krasiński Square was under renovation.  In February 1818, Fryderyk Chopin, at that time eight-years old, performed in public for the first time, probably in the large theatre room. He played a concert by Wojciech Gyrowetz for charity.

            Several months later the government of Congress Poland bought the palace from the Radziwiłł family. The palace was rebuilt to a design by Chrystian Pio­tr Aigner and was converted into the headquarters of the governor, once and for all bringing an end to the theatrical history of the building.  

An excerpt from: Barbara Król-Kaczorowska Teatry Warszawy, edited by PIW, Warszawa 1986, pp.  26–31.

 

Literature:

  1. Bania Z., Jaroszewski T., Pałac Rady Ministrów, PWN, Warszawa 1980.
  2. Jaroszewski T., Księga pałaców Warszawy, Wydawnictwo Interpress, Warszawa 1985.
  3. Król-Kaczorowska B., Teatry Warszawy. Budynki i sale w latach 1748-1975, PIW, Warszawa 1986.
  4. Kwiatkowski M., Ongiś Koniecpolskich, dzisiaj Rady Ministrów [in:] „Stolica”, 1 lutego 1981.
  5. Zieliński J., Atlas dawnej architektury ulic i placów Warszawy. Vol. 7 - Krakowskie Przedmieście, Towarzystwo Opieki nad Zabytkami, Warszawa 2001.

 

 

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