The Burgtheater
Austria′s National Theatre - Part II

The architecture of today′s Burgtheater is neo-Baroque and thus blends in fairly well into the first district of Vienna (something I wouldn′t say about a whole lot of other Ringstraße buildings). It was designed by Gottfried Semper (main structure) and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer (the first who was a famous architect for operas and theatres, the latter whom I′ve never heard of until I moved to Vienna).

The two architects got into some serious argument and so the construction took an impressive 14 years. Paintings for the interiors of the entrance hall were made by the Klimt brothers Gustav and Ernst. The two had done similar jobs in Fiume (today′s Rijeka in Croatia), Karlsbad (today also called something else and in the Czech Republic) and Bucharest (still Bucharest, in Romania).

The paintings in the two side-wings of the Burgtheater recall two legendary theatres: The one in Taormina (Sicily) and the Globe Theatre (in London, now re-built). The left wing granted access to "ordinary" aristocrats, whereas the right wing was exclusively build for the Emperor and his family. Franz Joseph I totally loved the paintings and the Klimt bros and their co-workers got shiny emblems and honorary degrees for the job.

Sightseeing on the Burgtheater′s Fašade

On the outside, you might recognise the statues of some famous writers and artists of the performing kind: Calderon, Shakespeare, Moliere, Schiller, Goethe, Lessing, Halm, Grillparzer and Hebbel. The masks represent allegories of the Antiquity: Hate, love, modesty, dominance, egoism and heroism. The old name of the theatre "K.K. Hofburgtheater" ("Imperial and Royal Court Burgtheater") is still above the central entrance.

The opening night of the new Burgtheater took place only two days after the old "Burg" on Michaelerplatz had been closed in 1888. A technical novelty was the electric light - this and the heavy decorations made the Viennese fall in love with the new building instantly. However, problems with the acoustics in the main hall caused significant refurbishments take place some ten years later.

The Burgtheater Today

Today, the Burgtheater′s ensemble is considered to be the most important bunch of actors that Austria has to offer. Being a "Burgschauspieler" ("Burg Theatre Actor") is regarded more highly than any academic degree and the "Burgtheaterdeutsch" (Burgtheater German) is considered to be the best-preserved standard of Austrian German by many people. Do not mistake the over-loaded fašade as a sign of Austria′s romantic dust one could assume in the inside of the Burg. In fact, many of the theatre′s productions are highly controversial and avant-gardistic.

One instance that might illustrate the love-hate-relationship that many Austrian intellectuals have with their country might be the performance of Thomas Bernhard′s "Heldenplatz" in the Burgtheater in 1988 (the new Burg′s 100th anniversary). Hermann Nitsch′s "Orgienmysterientheater", a close-to-an-orgy event that involved a lot of animal blood and intestines, has also taken place once in the Burgtheater. Needless to say, the Burgtheater is not the favourite stage of the gereatric Operetta-Viennese.

Return to "Burgtheater - Part I"

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Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

Official Website of the Vienna Burgtheater

Panorama Camera on the Burgtheater: View the Ringstraße