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The Estates Theatre

One of the oldest European theatres, operating continuously since 1783. You can see there Opera, Drama and Ballet performances.

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The Estates Theatre today

The Estates Theatre is one of the most beautiful historical theatre buildings in Europe. It has been part of the National Theatre since 1920. The Opera, Drama and Ballet ensembles give repertory performances at the Estates Theatre.

History

The Estates Theatre is one of the most beautiful historic theatre buildings in Europe. Its construction was initiated by the enlightened aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck, led by the desire to aggrandise his native city as well as the souls of its inhabitants. The construction lasted less than two years and the Theatre was opened in 1783. This project, extremely important for the Prague of the time, was in keeping with the zeitgeist of the late 18th century, a time when national theatres were being built at European courts, royal seats and cultural centres in the spirit of the Enlightenment idea that a generally accessible theatre is a moral institution demonstrating the cultural level of the nation.

The first, sporadic Czech-language performances took place in 1785. From 1812 onwards there were regular Sunday and holiday matinees. At that time, these performances became to a certain degree a political matter too. Thus arising in the difficult years following the failed revolution in 1848 was the idea of a Czech National Theatre.

Complete history of the Estates Theatre

A theatre devoted to the homeland and the muses

The Estates Theatre is one of the most beautiful historic theatre buildings in Europe. Its construction was initiated by the enlightened aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck, led by the desire to aggrandise his native city as well as the souls of its inhabitants. It was built within less than two years and the Theatre opened in 1783 with a performance of Lessing’s tragedy Emilia Galotti. The original name was the Count Nostitz Theatre. This project, extremely important for the Prague of the time, was in keeping with the Zeitgeist of the late 18th century, a time when national theatres were being built at European courts, royal seats and cultural centres in the spirit of the Enlightenment idea that a generally accessible theatre is a moral institution demonstrating the cultural level of the nation. Inscribed above the portal is the motto Patriae et Musis (To the Homeland and the Muses), which illustrates the grandiosity of the founder’s initial intention and which has maintained its validity to the present day. Following its affiliation to the National Theatre, it became a natural correlate to the National Theatre, with its motto The Nation for Itself.

A jewel of Neoclassical theatre architecture

The venue of traditional theatre productions next to Kotce and Charles University was chosen as the site for the construction of the Estates Theatre, since university and theatre were understood as an integral whole. The building itself was constructed in a Neoclassical style and, with the exception of the theatre in Leoven, Styria, is the only theatre of its kind in Europe to have been preserved in an almost original state to the present day. In 1798 the Theatre was purchased by the Czech Estates and acquired the name Royal Estates Theatre. In 1862, with the opening of the Provisional Theatre as an entirely Czech theatre, the stage of the Estates Theatre was earmarked solely for a German ensemble and renamed the Royal Provincial German Theatre. During the period between 1920 and 1948 (with the exception of the Occupation years), the Theatre, again bearing the name Estates Theatre, was a stage for the National Theatre, primarily its Drama ensemble. In 1948 it was renamed the Tyl Theatre and would be known as such until 1990 when, following an extensive eight-year reconstruction, it regained the historical name of Estates Theatre.

Cradle of the first Czech-language theatre performances

The Theatre’s founder, Nostitz, was a German, a native Praguer, a zealous patriot proud of the history of the Kingdom of Bohemia. He built the Theatre with the intention of producing German dramas and Italian operas. He did not, however, entirely rule out productions in other languages. German was the language at the Estates Theatre until 1920, when it was taken over by Czechs and affiliated to the National Theatre. Soon after its opening, productions in Czech were staged alongside those in German. The Estates Theatre is thus connected with the beginnings of Czech professional theatre. The first, sporadic Czech-language performances took place in 1785 (basically for commercial reasons: in order to increase sales by alluring the Czech-speaking public). From 1812 onwards there were regular Sunday and holiday matinees. At that time, these performances became to a certain degree a political matter too. Thus arising in the difficult years following the failed revolution in 1848 and the forced departure of J. K. Tyl was the idea of a Czech National Theatre.

Key premieres in the history of the National Theatre Drama at the Estates Theatre and its artists

Several founding generations of Czech theatre-makers were actively involved in the Estates Theatre. From the pioneers, the brothers Thám, J. N. Štěpánek, to Klicpera, J. K.Tyl, J. J. Kolár, etc. Also appearing on this stage was, for example, K. H. Mácha, while the first Czech modern opera – Škroup’s The Tinker - was presented here in 1826. The song “Where is My Home”, which would later become the Czech national anthem, was first sung in 1834. The Estates Theatre is also inextricably linked with the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Besides other of his works, it was the venue of world premieres of two Mozart operas: the celebrated Don Giovanni (on 29 October 1787 – conducted by the composer himself) and La clemenza di Tito (1791, to mark the coronation of Leopold II). Throughout its history, the Estates Theatre allured a host of distinct artists of Europe-wide significance: Carl Maria von Weber held the post of musical director; Angelika Catalani sang here; the violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini gave a concert; Arthur Rubinstein, Carl Goldmark and Gustav Mahler conducted at the Theatre. Other famous names include the actors W. A. Iffland, F. Raimund, J. N. Nestroy, Wenzl Scholze, Ira Aldrige, Rachel and many others.

Following its affiliation to the National Theatre in 1920, the Estates Theatre above all served as a stage for drama productions, at first a light conversational repertoire that gradually assumed greater gravity. Momentous premieres include, for example, Čapek’s The White Plague and Mother. Of no less importance for Czech theatre history was the engagement of our finest directors at the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s – especially Alfréd Radok and Otomar Krejči – and the staging of original Czech plays by František Hrubín, Milan Kundera and Josef Topol. The National Theatre Opera primarily presents the Mozart repertoire.