Vienna


Vienna
   Vienna (Wien) was the German theater's leading city for most of the 19th century, due in large measure to the superb acting ensemble at the Königliches und Kaiserliches (Royal and Imperial) Burg-theater. The "Burg" dominated the city's theatrical life in a way the Royal Theater in Berlin did not; Vienna never possessed the speculative spirit characteristic of Berlin, either. Vienna had long been the music capital of Europe, with Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and several outstanding orchestral ensembles in its midst. The Viennese love of music strongly influenced its taste in theater and differentiated it from almost all other German-language cities. Actors in Vienna were allowed to indulge in virtuosic displays to a far greater extent than elsewhere, for example; that may be one reason why Vienna never developed an independent theater movement, as Berlin did with Otto Brahm and the Freie Bühne. Theater as a sober examination of social problems found little resonance among the Viennese.
   Vienna began as a tribal settlement along the banks of the Danube River. The Romans called it Vindobona and recognized its beneficial location as both a military outpost and a commercial center. Caesar Augustus fortified it considerably in the first century A.D. as a bulwark against the Teutonic tribes to the north; Marcus Aurelius made it one of his residences, and he died there in 180. After the Romans withdrew from Vienna in the fifth century, numerous tribes fought over it and its surrounding environs for centuries. In the ninth century, it came under Charlemagne's rule, and in 1137 it was incorporated as a city. In 1278 Vienna became the seat of the House of Habsburg, and it remained a Habsburg city until 1918.
   By the 15th century, Vienna was the site of prodigious theatrical activity in the form of religious drama, especially on Good Friday and the feast of Corpus Christi. By the mid-16th century, Jesuits were staging plays on a regular basis in their schools; commedia troupes appeared with equal regularity throughout the city, and the Englische Komödianten (English Comedians) appeared around the 1590s. Theater activity in Vienna was disrupted during the 17th century not only by the disastrous Thirty Years' War but also during the second siege of the city in 1683 by the invading Turks and their allies. The Turks were driven back and finally destroyed in 1697, and shortly thereafter (in 1705) Josef Anton Stranitsky (1676-1726) felt it safe to appear in Vienna as Hanswurst. Stranitsky moved into the Kärntnertor Theater in 1711, where he held forth for two decades.
   Hanswurst had a far different experience in Vienna than he did in Leipzig or other 18th-century German theater centers. Josef Sonnenfels (1773-1817)—not a pastor's son as Johann Christoph Gottsched had been, but a rabbi's son—like Gottsched attempted to reform the Viennese popular tradition and rid it of Hanswurst. Local audiences completely repudiated Sonnenfels's efforts, however, and continued to support the various manifestations of Hanswurst through the remainder of the 18th century and well into the 1800s. Sonnenfels was nevertheless raised to the aristocracy and given a professorship.
   In 1741 a reception hall adjacent to the Habsburg palace was temporarily transformed and leased as a theater; it became the Teutsches Nationaltheater (German National Theater) in 1776; 20 years later it received the name Burgtheater. Meanwhile, the Kärntnertor Theater had been destroyed by fire; the Habsburgs rebuilt it and designated it a court theater. It was torn down in 1870. The Theater in der Josefstadt near the royal and imperial palace began in the garden of a well-known Vienna restaurant. By 1788 it was featuring dance and vaudeville-style acts. The Josefstadt is the only theater in present-day Vienna that still occupies the place on which it originated. Max Reinhardt bought it in 1924 and ran it until 1938, whereupon Heinz Hilpert took over its administration and ran it as if Reinhardt were merely in absentia.
   The Raimund Theater had nothing specifically to do with Ferdinand Raimund, although the theater's owners staged Raimund's Die gefesselte Phantasie (The Imagination Enchained) for the facility's grand opening in 1893. By the 1920s the Raimund was used almost exclusively for operettas, and since then it has been identified in the Viennese public mind with musical entertainment. The Theater an der Wien (completed in 1801) likewise had a strong musical connection, with the premiere of Beethoven's Fidelio and later with several operettas by Johann Strauss, Franz von Suppé, Franz Lehar, Karl Mil-löcker, and others for whom Vienna became justifiably famous. The Theater in der Leopoldstadt also had a substantial music pedigree, since Mozart's The Magic Flute premiered there. Carl Carl bought the theater in 1838 and rebuilt it in 1847 as the Carl Theater; it had been the site of numerous Johann Nepomuk Nestroy premieres and continued to be so even after Carl died and Nestroy assumed its leadership.
   Following the collapse of the Third Reich (of which Austria was a part), the Viennese found several of their theaters destroyed or severely damaged—most notable among them the Carl; the Burgtheater suffered damage so severe that it did not reopen for a decade. The Akademie Theater, which the Burgtheater had annexed in 1922, was undamaged and reopened in May 1945. Some private theaters such as the Theater an der Wien and the Ronacher were intact, and in those venues performances resumed shortly after the occupation of the city. Numerous tiny "cellar theaters" arose in the late 1940s, dedicated largely to experimental or literary works. The Theater in der Josefstadt and its Kammerspiele continued to emulate the Hilpert era, as in most cases they still do up to the present time; both houses, however, receive some state subvention. With the establishment of Austria's neutrality with the Treaty of Vienna in 1955, the Burgtheater reopened; a series of talented directors helped to reestablish the theater's acting ensemble as one of the most significant in the German-speaking theater. The most controversial artistic director of the Burg was Claus Pey-mann, during whose administration (1986-1999) the premieres of plays by Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Handke, and George Tabori attracted substantial media attention.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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