This is an historic theater that was inaugurated in 1783 with a performance of the play Emilia Galotti (in German) by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781).
But the truly historic thing happened here just five years later in 1787 when the world’s greatest composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni. Thousands of books have been written about this event, including a recent novel by the German author Hanns-Josef Ortheil, who makes it sound really turbulent. In Ortheil’s version, the premiere threatened to be a flop because Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, insisted on portraying Don Giovanni (Don Juan) as a violent rapist rather than a suave seducer. Enter the good guy, Giacomo Casanova, Europe’s best-known suave seducer of the eighteenth century, who re-wrote the libretto and helped Mozart’s opera to be a great success, which it has remained to this day.
Most of this is just Ortheil’s imagination, but there is some basis in fact. Casanova really was in Prague at the time, and some of the corrections in the original opera score are in his handwriting. But not all scholars agree that his changes improved the libretto, particularly. Lorenzo da Ponte also wrote the texts for two other Mozart operas, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte, both of which were (and still are) hugely successful without any help from Casanova.
When I was in Prague in 2011 there were unfortunately no operas playing at the Estates Theater, so I didn’t get to see the inside. They were advertising a new production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Serail, but the premiere was scheduled for Května, which turns out to mean May, and I was there in Duben (April), so I had no chance.
The Abduction from the Serail (Únos ze Serailu in Czech, Die Entführung aus dem Serail in the original German) is Mozart’s fourteenth opera, composed in 1782 when he was 26 years old. We had a great production of it in Frankfurt not long ago, staged by Christoph Loy.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2021.