- (1834-1909)Actor. Sonnenthal made his debut at age 17 at the Deutsches Theater of Timisoara, Romania. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, and spent the early years of his career in Habsburg lands until he got an engagement in Königsberg in 1856. There, Heinrich Laube saw him and hired him as a member of the Burgtheater in Vienna. Sonnenthal's first role at the Burg came as the title character in William Mountfort's Mortimer, and it led to several subsequent star turns that included Hamlet, the Marquis Posa in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, and Lord Rochester in Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer's adaptation of Jane Eyre titled Die Waise von Lowood (The Orphan of Lowood). In 1859 the Burgtheater offered Sonnenthal a lifetime contract, which culminated in his being raised to the aristocracy in 1881, at which time he gave up his Hungarian citizenship.Sonnenthal remained with the Burg until his retirement, though he frequently did guest appearances in Berlin and in other German cities. He ran the Burgtheater company in the late 1880s, when his career was beginning to resemble that of Ludwig Barnay. Like Barnay, Sonnenthal was a Jew born in Budapest and rose to become a member of the establishment. Unlike Barnay, however, Sonnenthal could not avoid political and cultural controversy. In 1889 while performing the title role in Wallenstein at the Deutsches Theater in Budapest, a Hungarian nationalist set fire to the structure; his motive was to protest the appearance of Sonnenthal (by then, Adolf von Sonnenthal) whom some Hungarians considered a traitor and a representative of Germanic cultural imperialism. The theater was destroyed, and German-speaking troupes returned to Budapest only infrequently thereafter.During the 1890s Sonnenthal tried his hand at Naturalist acting in the plays of Henrik Ibsen, with distinctly mixed results. Otto Brahm concluded that Sonnenthal had once been a great actor, but the advent of Naturalism meant that his acting was now out of fashion. When Max Burckhard took over the reins of the Burg in the 1890s and began to present the plays of Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Arthur Schnitzler, Sonnenthal himself recognized that something had definitely changed and that his talents were insufficient to make the transition.
Historical dictionary of German Theatre. William Grange. 2006.
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