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Bürgerblock - Burnacini, Giovanni (17/25)
Burgstaller, Ernst Burg-Vergein


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Burgtheater: view from the tower of the Town Hall.

Burgtheater, Federal Theatres in Vienna; called "die Burg" by the Viennese population; ranks among the best-known traditional stages in the world. Over the years, its theatrical company of more or less regular members has worked out a traditional style and speech characteristic of Burgtheater performances. The audience has always been involved in evaluating the talents of new members of the Burgtheater company.

Theatre building: in 1741 Empress Maria Theresia authorised the theatre manager Joseph Selliers to convert the festival and banquet hall which had been added to the north-eastern angle of the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) into a theatre. The newly adapted theatre "next to the Burg" was inaugurated in 1748; the back wall of the stage was moved further out onto Michaelerplatz in 1756. The auditorium of the old Burgtheater was a wooden structure which created an excellent atmosphere and had superb acoustic properties. The Burgtheater was always closely linked to the Imperial family, who enjoyed the privilege of theatre boxes that could be reached directly from the imperial rooms. After the last performance in this building on October 12, 1888, the Burgtheater company moved to the new building on the Ringstraße, built by architects G. Semper and C. von Hasenauer. Both actors and audiences, however, complained about the bad acoustics and the new Burgtheater no longer enjoyed the reputation of its predecessor. In 1897 the auditorium was redone. After the Schönbrunner Schloßtheater had become temporarily affiliated to the Burgtheater in 1919 the Akademietheater, which was housed in the Konzerthaus (concert hall building), became affiliated to the Burgtheater as a studio theatre from 1922 to 1923. On March 12, 1945 the Burgtheater was largely destroyed in a bombing raid and further damaged by a fire of unknown origin on April 12, 1945. Accordingly, the Burgtheater company temporarily moved to the Ronacher variety theatre. The Burgtheater was finally rebuilt between 1953 and 1955; M. Engelhart was responsible for the new design of the auditorium, O. Niedermoser and S. Nordegg were responsible for the new stage design. The new Burgtheater building was finally inaugurated on October 15, 1955.

Artistic direction and management: Between 1741 and 1752 the Burgtheater was leased to various theatre managers; gala performances were, however, organised for the Imperial family, who still enjoyed the privilege of theatre boxes. The stage performed both opera and drama; plays were mostly performed in Italian and French, rarely in German. In 1752 Empress Maria Theresia put the theatre under Court administration. The reform operas of C. W. Gluck were performed for the first time during this period. However, several managers of the Burgtheater had suffered financial losses after 1756; accordingly, Emperor Joseph II declared the Burgtheater the "National Theatre next to the Burg" in 1776 and entrusted a joint committee of actors and directors with its management; later J. F. Brockmann assumed responsibility for the management of the Burgtheater; 1776 is generally considered the foundation year of the Burgtheater as we know it today. The actors finally obtained the status of "civil servants of the state", or court civil servants, and they were even granted old age pensions. Much money was spent on opera and ballet performances, on performances of "well-done" translations and plays written in German. However, the management and direction of the Burgtheater were once again entrusted to free-lance theatre managers between 1794 and 1817. In 1814 the last of these, Count Ferdinand Pálffy, entrusted J. Schreyvogel (1814-1832) with the administration of the theatre; Schreyvogel introduced a number of reforms; his greatest achievements were the introduction of a repertoire (ranging from classical German drama to premières of plays by F: Grillparzer); the recruitment of new members of the theatrical company and the development of a speech characteristic of Burgtheater performances. - Under the management of H. Laube (1849-1867) the Burgtheater finally achieved its leading position among German stages. Its broad repertoire (164 plays) comprised excellent performances of German classical drama and contemporary drawing-room plays. - Whereas Laube was praised for his excellence as a stage and speech director, his successor F. Dingelstedt (1870-1881) was much admired for his stage design and sumptuous productions. His repertoire consisted of 109 plays. - Under the management of M. Burckhard (1890-1898) an increasing number of plays by contemporary authors were performed in the Burgtheater, including plays by naturalist dramatists such as H. Ibsen and G. Hauptmann as well as plays by A. Schnitzler. - The repertoire developed by Burgtheater manager P. Schlenther (1898-1910) focused on plays by Austrian dramatists such as F. Raimund and J. Nestroy. - A decisive change in the style of acting was noticed under the management of A. Berger (1910-1912), a strict opponent of naturalism who concentrated on the psychological aspects of contemporary plays and favoured star actors such as F. Mitterwurzer and J. Kainz with new roles. - ManagerHeine (1918-1921) tried in vain to hire M. Reinhardt and his theatrical company. The writer A. Wildgans was twice manager of the Burgtheater, from 1921 to 1922 and from 1930 to 1931. - H. Röbbeling (1932-1938) introduced a repertoire organised in various cycles, i.e. each play was performed for a limited period of time in rotation with other plays; his aim was to realise an international repertoire in which the works of Austrian dramatists were balanced with those of writers from other countries. M. Eis and F. Liewehr were among the most famous actors employed by him. - Manager L. Müthel (1939-1945), who was assisted by the dramaturge Erhard Buschbeck, strove to implement a classical repertoire free from Nazi propaganda. - When the Burgtheater was granted ´asylum´ in the variety theatre Ronacher it was managed by the actor R. Aslan (1945-1948), E. Buschbeck (temporary head from March to October 1948) and J. Gielen (1948-1954). The new Burgtheater building on the Ringstraße was inaugurated under the management of A. Rott (1954-1959). Rott succeeded in making perfect use of state-of-the-art stage machinery. The new repertoire of the Burgtheater included plays by authors forbidden by the National Socialists and classical drama as well as plays by the young Austrian dramatist F. Hochwälder. - E. Haeusserman (1959-1968) employed renowned stage directors and enjoyed a high reputation for dividing his repertoire into various cycles. 60 new members were recruited when former members of the Burgtheater company retired, which allowed the Burgtheater company to go on a world tour in 1968. - P. Hoffmann (1968-1971), both actor and administrative director of the Burgtheater, hired H. Reincke and K. Wussow. - G. Klingenberg (1971-1976) strove to make the Burgtheater a stage for contemporary plays. - A. Benning, the first elected spokesman of the Burgtheater company (1971), devoted himself to promoting repertory theatre (approximately 50 plays were performed in a season) when he was responsible for the management of the Burgtheater between 1976 and 1986 and gave preference to plays the audience wanted to see. - By changing the subscription system and offering cheap tickets to students, his successor C. Peymann (from 1986-1999) was able to attract a younger audience to the Burgtheater; his modernised programme and characteristic style of theatrical productions, however, met with general opposition among elderly theatre-goers. In 1993 a rehearsal stage designed by the Austrian architect G. Peichl was opened in the Arsenal multi-purpose complex. Peymann's successor in 1999 was K. Bachler. The Austrian federal theatres have been encompassed in a holding company since 1999 and the Burgtheater has been run as a limited liability company (Ges. m. b. H.) since that time.

Burgtheater Gallery: collection of portraits of members of the Burgtheater in the course of its 200-year history.

Burgtheater Ring:> Ring endowment founded by Jakob Lippowitz (Concordia), publisher of the Neues Wiener Journal (Concordia Press Club); awarded annually between 1926 and 1934 for special merits either to a member of the Burgtheater or to a dramatist.

Doyenne or Doyen of the Burgtheater: special status awarded to actresses and actors of the Burgtheater who remain life members of the company and, on their decease, are honoured with a special funeral according to Burgtheater tradition.

Honorary Ring of the Burgtheater, awarded since October 1, 1955, at irregular intervals to members of the Burgtheater company on the proposal of the company committee in recognition of their personal and artistic qualities and as a sign of appreciation of their colleagues.

Spokesman of the Theatrical Company of the Burgtheater: in 1971 members of the theatrical company were granted the right to participate in decisions on new recruitments and the repertoire.

Curtain-calls: dating back to a police ordinance from August 19, 1798, an unwritten law reigned for almost 200 years at the Burgtheater which permitted only guest actors but no members of the Burgtheater company to appear before the curtain in response to the applause of the audience; this tradition was abolished in 1979.

Literature: M. Dietrich, Das Burgtheater und sein Publikum, vol. 1, 1976; B. 1776-1976. Aufführungen und Besetzungen, 2 vols., 1979; R. Urbach and A. Benning, B. 1776-1986, 1986; F. Hadamowsky, Wien. Theatergeschichte. Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs, 1988; E. Großegger, Das Burgtheater und sein Publikum, vol. 2: Pächter und Publikum (1794-1817), 1989; H. Beil (ed.), Weltkomödie Ö. 13 Jahre Burgtheater, 1986-1999, 1999.

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