- (Vienna)In 1741 the Habsburg empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) leased a reception hall next to the royal and imperial palace, the Hofburg, to Karl Josef Selliers (1702-1755) for the purposes of presenting plays to her court. Selliers was at the time director of the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna, where he presented mostly operas and ballets. Maria Theresa's son and successor Joseph II (1741-1790) decreed the structure a "Teutsches Nationaltheater" (German National Theater) in 1776 and ran it himself, presenting plays by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and William Shakespeare; in 1778 he presented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's comic opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). Because of Joseph's personal involvement, the place developed a reputation for high production values and superb performances through the 1780s—including Friedrich Ludwig Schroder's from 1781 to 1785. Joseph appointed Johann Franz Brockmann (1745-1812) the theater's first director in 1789. In 1794, the former reception hall became the "Royal and Imperial Court Theater Next to the Burg," or "Burgtheater"—often later shortened still further to "the Burg"—one of the most illustrious theaters in the German-speaking world.From 1814 to 1832 Joseph Schreyvogel ran the theater, concentrating on classics and producing several Franz Grillparzer premieres. Schreyvogel's were among the first almost completely unabridged Shakespeare productions in the German theater. He was also responsible for the world premiere of Heinrich von Kleist's Prince Friedrich of Homburg and several others by Grillparzer. Under Heinrich Laube from 1849 to 1867, the repertoire became more modern, with numerous productions of plays by Karl Gutzkow, Friedrich Hebbel, and especially Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer; as a result, Laube was among the first German directors to employ the box set consistently. His acting ensemble remained first rate, with several of the German theater's outstanding talents, including Bogumil Dawison, Adolf Sonnenthal, and Charlotte Wolter, under contract.Franz Dingelstedt's administration (1870-1881) featured numerous lavish productions and the first Shakespearean cycle of history plays on a German stage. During the Dingelstedt period, plans for the construction of a new Burgtheater on Vienna's Ring Strasse began to take shape. After 14 years of construction the new facility, designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Haenauer, opened in October 1888. It was among the first theaters in Austria to be completely electrified, though its acoustical problems were not solved until a decade later. That occurred under Max Burckhard's administration (1890-1898), which saw an analogously electrifying new openness to the plays of Henrik Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, August Strindberg, and Arthur Schnitzler. Burckhard's successor was Paul Schlenther, a co-founder of the Freie Bühne in Berlin; his administration (1898-1910) continued the trend Burckhard had started.The collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918 made the Burg a state theater, and as such it began to lose its status a premiere citadel of German theater culture. Private theaters such as Max Reinhardt's attracted more attention from the public, largely because they could boast artistic talent more audiences wanted to see. Through the 20th century, the Burg had several capable administrators, along with numerous outstanding actors and actresses. In 1945 the structure was severely damaged in an Allied bombing raid, and repair of the damage required an entire decade before the building could reopen to the public.Among the numerous directors to run the Burgtheater in the postwar period, Claus Peymann remained longest in office, from 1986 to 1999. His premieres of plays by Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Handke, Peter Turrini, and George Tabori went a long way toward attracting much wider media attention to the Burg, although the media attention and controversy the premieres attracted could not make up for the generally poor quality of the plays themselves. Under Peymann's administration, however, the Burg emerged as one of the leading theaters in a newly conceived and unified Europe. The Burgtheater was no longer just a German-language institution; it was a cultural bulwark known throughout an entire continent.
Historical dictionary of German Theatre. William Grange. 2006.
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