Theater an der Wien

Theater in Vienna 1900


This theater replaced the Freihaustheater in 1801. The building of the Theater an der Wien was on a site on the bank of the river Wien that had been acquired by a businessman, Bartholomaus Zitterbarth. The Theater was distinguished by its modernity and size: Murray’s ‘Handbook for travelers in southern Germany’ called it the largest and the most handsome house in Vienna. Estimates of its capacity vary widely. Including standing room, it may have held over 2000 (more or less double of what it holds today) people; certainly it was the biggest of all the Viennese theaters until the new opera house opened in 1868. But by 1912, the published capacity of Theater an der Wien was only 1,359 seats, half of what it was in 1828.

A number of Beethoven’s works were given their first public performances in the Theater an der Wien. The theater provided the favorite entertainment of the upper and middle classes, and even the lower classes attended it. Karl Carl first introduced the box set; with closed walls, functioning doors and windows, and a ceiling piece in this theater in about 1840. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the theater catered for a liking for melodrama and spectacle. When Franz Pokorny took over Theater an der Wien in 1845, he allowed himself an ambitious program of opera. In December of the same year, he put on Karl Maria von Weber’s opera in the theater.

Around 1857, Theater an der Wien was known as the meeting place of the ‘beau monde’. From this statement it is clear that the character of the commercial theaters had decisively altered, reflecting the changing character of the expanding city. It was in the Theater an der Wein that the first Viennese operetta, Franz von Suppe’s ‘Das Pensionat’ was produced in November 1860. From 1865, the theater became the main operetta theater in Vienna. In 1869, its lessee Friedrich Strampfer was succeeded by Maximilian Steiner till 1880 after which his son Franz Steiner succeeded him until 1884. M. Steiner had maintained some dialect drama in his program but it disappeared almost completely after 1884. The theater was targeting a predominantly middle class audience. According to the journalist Adam Muller-Guttenbrunn, Theater an der Wien had to be reorganized according to its specialty i.e. the operetta repertoire in his booklet ‘Wien war eine Theaterstadt’.

A modernist movement was seen in theater in Vienna in around 1900. The theater an der Wien was the site of important performances by touring celebrities like Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonara Duse and Berlin companies like Otto Brahm.