This historic theater got its name from the fact that it was built on the bank of a small river called the Wien — a river that has since been banished underground.
For many years the Theater an der Wien presented a mixed bag of operas, operettas, musicals and spoken drama, but since 2006 it has been functioning as a full-scale opera house.
So far I have only seen one performance in this theater — Mozart’s Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in the year 1991.
On my most recent visit there were no performances during the week I was in Vienna, because they were preparing a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.
The upper plaque on the side of the building reads: “Theater an der Wien 1797-1801, built from the plans of Franz Jäger, later re-designed several times.”
The bottom plaque reads: “Ludwig van Beethoven lived in the Theater an der Wien 1803 and 1804. Parts of his opera, his 3rd symphony and the Kreutzer Sonata were composed here. Fidelio and other works had their world premieres in this building.”
This plaque is devoted to the composer and librettist Ralph Benatsky (1884-1957). It lists a few of his songs and stage works, and says that two of them had their world premieres here in the Theater an der Wien: Axel an der Himmelstür on September 1, 1936, and Majestät privat on December 18, 1937. I was interested in this because just the night before I had seen a performance of Axel an der Himmelstür at the Volksoper.
Theater an der Wien entrance and box office
The main entrance to the Theater an der Wien is now on the street called Linke Wienzeile. The banner in the background says “Ten Years Opera House”, because the Theater an der Wien became an opera house in 2006 and I took the photo in 2016.
On the sidewalk in front of the Theater an der Wien is the start of Vienna’s Music Mile or Walk of Fame. Of course the idea comes from Hollywood, which has been developing its “Walk of Fame” since the 1950s by embedding five-pointed stars in the sidewalks to honor actors, musicians, directors, producers and other prominent members of the entertainment industry (including some quite unsavory characters).
Vienna’s Walk of Fame uses similar five-pointed stars to honor composers, conductors and other personalities from the city’s long tradition of classical music. The stars are embedded in the sidewalks starting at the Theater an der Wien and continuing past the Musikverein and the State Opera to Kärtnerstrasse.
This star near the Theater an der Wien and honors one of the very first opera composers, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) — not to be confused with Giuseppe Verdi, who lived two and a half centuries later.
Monteverdi was born and grew up in Cremona but later worked mainly in Mantua and Venice. He composed at least eighteen operas, but only four of these still exist: L’Orfeo (Mantua 1607), Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Venice 1624), Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (Venice 1640) and L’incoronazione di Poppea (Venice 1642). I have seen all four of these in Frankfurt, several times each, and also in various other places around Europe.
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) spent most of his career composing light-hearted, satirical operettas and staging them in his own theater in Paris. But then at the end of his life he surprised everyone by turning out a true blockbuster of an opera, the Tales of Hoffmann, based on stories by the German author E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). I have seen the Tales of Hoffmann in New York, Frankfurt am Main, Regensburg and Leipzig, and have also seen several of his operettas, which continue to be performed quite often. See my Offenbach posts for examples.
If I had arrived in Vienna one day earlier, I could have seen the opera Falstaff by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) at the Theater an der Wien. I have seen Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff many times, and Otto Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor occasionally, but I never even knew there was an opera by Salieri based on the same Shakespeare play.
Altogether Salieri composed 37 operas. Some of them were quite popular in Vienna at the time, though they are rarely performed today. After Mozart’s early death, someone started a rumor that Salieri had poisoned him, out of envy. This rumor was completely unfounded (and Salieri went on living in Vienna for another 34 years after Mozart’s death without being accused or investigated in any way), but the rumor proved to be very persistent and was even the subject of an opera called Mozart and Salieri by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. I once saw this opera when it was performed in Frankfurt, but was not terribly impressed.
Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) wrote the libretto for Mozart’s last opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute).
The world premiere took place in Vienna in 1791 at the Theater auf der Weiden, where Schikaneder was the impresario. Mozart himself conducted the premiere. Schikaneder played and sang the role of Papageno.
When I was growing up in America, I knew the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) only from his Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”.
Much later I learned that Dvorak had also composed ten operas. I have seen one of these, Rusalka, several times at the Frankfurt Opera and more recently at the Flemish Opera in Antwerp, Belgium.
My photos in this post are from 2016, I revised the text in 2017.
Next Vienna post: Musikverein