The Vienna Burgtheater, the second oldest national theatre in Europe, is the most important stage in Austria.
The construction of this gem of New Baroque was launched in 1874 by two architects: Gottfried Semper, responsible for the external façade of the building, and Carl von Hasenauer who oversaw the interior work. Three years later, a disagreement between the two architects regarding the final image of the building ended with Semper resigning his position and heading for Rome, which left Carl von Hasenauer alone with his vision of the opulent edifice and free to complete the work unhindered by futile discussions - and that was exactly what he did.
The façade of Burgtheater is adorned by sculptures of Apollo and the Muses Melpomene and Thalia; underneath them - a frieze featuring Bacchus and Ariadne. The giant busts of poets in the top floor windows emphasise the presence of European theatre in the building: Goethe, Schiller and Lessing represent the power of German Enlightenment; Halm, Grillparzer and Hebbel - the Austrian theatre culture and Calderón, Shakespeare and Molière - the Spanish, British and French joy of the spoken and written word.
The Burgtheater ceiling paintings feature the early works by Gustav Klimt, created with the help of his brothers Ernst and Franz and depicting the actors of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the finale of Romeo and Juliet. A scene from Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire was painted above the auditorium entrance. The lobby and staircase leading into the theatre are lined with portraits of the legendary Burgtheater actors and actresses.
While Burgtheater celebrates its history and takes great pride in it, it is by no means a museum living in the past. In 1988 it was the venue of one of the most shocking European theatre productions ever - Thomas Bernhard's Heldenplatzs directed by Claus Peymann; a group of Austrians who felt that their sensibilities had been grossly offended marked the premiere by dumping a load of manure in front of the theatre building. The last five years have seen two of the most radical European artists stage their works here: the Viennese action artist Hermann Nitsch performed Action No. 122 of his 'orgiastic mystery theatre', featuring dissected animal bodies on the stage. Compared to this, the creation of the German action artist, theatre, opera and film director Christoph Schlingensief, which involved transforming the old Burgtheater into a completely new art space and employing techniques borrowed from all existing forms of art, seemed like a happy child's fantasy.
Most importantly, the greatest pride of the Vienna Burgtheater is its body of actors. Burgtheater is an actor's theatre.
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Keywords: theatre, theatres, Vienna