The State Opera today
The State Opera (formerly the State Opera Prague, between 1948 and 1992 the Smetana Theatre, and originally the New German Theatre) has been a part of the National Theatre since 2012. The Opera and Ballet ensembles give repertory performances at the State Opera.
The Prague State Opera resides in the building which on January 5, 1888 was opened as a Prague German stage with the performance of Wagner’s opera, The Mastersingers of Nürnberg. In the 19th century, Prague Germans performed in the Estate’s Theater in alternation with a Czech company. Desire for their own theater led to negotiations in 1883 for the construction of a new theater building for the German Theater Association. Over the next three years, a blueprint was drawn up and handed over to the Vienna atelier of Fellner and Hellmer. Also sharing in the design was the architect of the Vienna Municipal Theater, Karl Hasenauer, while Prague architect Alfons Wertmüller took part in the construction. Financing came from private collections. With its spacious auditorium and neo-Rococo decoration, this theater building is among the most beautiful in Europe.
The New German Theatre (Neues deutsches Theater)
After Neumann’s death in 1910, Alexander Zemlinsky became the director of the opera from 1911–1927. A great director and composer, Zemlinsky enriched Prague’s cultural life with his unrivalled interpretations of Mozart’s works and significant stagings of works by E. Krenek, P. Hindemith, E. W. Korngold, F. Schreker, as well as his own works. During his era, first-rate artists appeared here such as M. Müller, M. Huss, F. Schorr, L. Slezak, R. Tauber, L. Lehmann and others. Under his successor, Georg Szell, works by modern composers were also performed. The theater featured a remarkably wide repertoire, even including works from Prague German composers (F. Finke, T. Veidl, H. Krása). The company also had excellent singers at its disposal (R. Pauly, R. Stevens, K. Baum, H. Hotter etc.). The final performance in the theater took place on September 25, 1938, when the Theater Association terminated all contracts and sold the theater building to the Czechoslovak state. During the occupation, the theater did not have any regular performances under the name of The Prague German Opera. There were only occasional guest performances by a few German companies.
Among the exceptional artistic figures who performed here were directors Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Felix Mottl, Arthur Nikisch and Felix Weingartner, as well as soloists Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, Berta Lauterer-Foerster, Maria Jeritza, Nellie Melba, Karl Burian, Enrico Caruso, Benjamino Gigli, Jan Kiepura, Richard Kubla, and Tino Pattiera.
History of the theatre after Second World War II
After liberation, the building was handed over to the May 5th Theater, which later became part of the National Theater. Since its inception in 1992, the Prague State Opera has celebrated the tradition of the New German Theater, not only through the space in which it plays, but above all through the dramaturgy and establishment of its own documentation center, which would like to archive the activities of the NDT (New German Theater), since the archive of this theater has unfortunately been irretrievably lost.