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Text: Lýdie Tallová


The city of Karlovy Vary boasts one of the most beautiful European theatres. The grandiose building was built between 1884 and 1886 and designed in a pseudo-Rococo style by the Viennese studio of renowned architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. The theatre is one of the finest buildings by the architects, who designed a total of 48 theatres across Europe during their work together. This impressive architectural masterpiece may not be the first theatre building in the famous Czech spa city, but it is a refined theatrical temple reflecting the city’s spa atmosphere, and its interior contains rare cultural richness. The fact that the Karlovy Vary Theatre is one of the oldest neo-Baroque buildings in the Czech Republic is also worth noting.


The history of the theatre in Karlovy Vary is woven with an interesting thread. The theatre began developing in Karlovy Vary in the early 17th century. The first mentions of seasonal performances in the spa city date back to 1602. The various open areas of the town were enlivened by travelling street troupes. However, the path to the theatre building was still long.
The first theatre building in Karlovy Vary was built in 1717 by Saxon elector Augustus II the Strong. He used the city spa to nurture his body as well as his soul. It was for this reason that he was accompanied by a French opera, which performed daily ballets and concerts in the Saxon Hall. It was for the opera that the elector had the theatre built next to the spa park alley and the promenades for noble guests. The long, approximately 40-metre tall building made of planks, reed and mortar stood behind the so-called Pupp Alley, where the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe monument stands today. The modest appearance of the wooden building is shown by a surviving contemporary engraving. The simple building, known as the Temple of the Muses or Comedy House (Comoedi Haus), provided a stage for theatre performers until 1787, when it collapsed due to decay. The seventy-year history of the fragile theatre building arouses admiration today for the fact that the theatre spirit was able to captivate audiences for so long in such poor conditions. The Comoedi Haus provided a scene to regional theatre performers as well as a place for summer stagiones of Italian opera companies for many years. Even then, the most famous European spa was a very cultural city.


The collapse of the old theatre building put a sad end to the remarkable theatrical phase of the city of mineral springs. On the other hand, it initiated the rise of the more noble theatre stage, established by renowned spa doctor David Becher, who was a man of culture. The new theatre building was built on Nová Louka. Becher personally contributed to the start of the construction by giving the city an interest-free loan. A significant amount of the funds for the construction of the Becher Theatre was drawn from the proceeds of the sale of thermal spring salts. The dignified stand of the Muses was inaugurated in 1788 with a performance of the Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Shortly before this, the same opera received great acclaim in Vienna and in Prague. The new two-storey theatre held 543 spectators. The interior decoration was simple but tasteful. The Becher Theatre served its purpose for almost a hundred years before its demolition in 1884 for its inadequate technical condition and the need for a greater capacity. By then, David Becher was long in eternal rest.


In the same year, the construction of the current theatre building by Viennese architects Fellner and Helmer began on the same site. Two years later, the theatre was inaugurated, again with the Marriage of Figaro. Due to its age, the building of the theatre was renovated several times. The most extensive renovation took place between 1994 and 1999. The theatre was reopened again with the Marriage of Figaro performed by the National Theatre Opera Company from Prague. The building attracts attention with its impressive exterior, which places the theatre among the most beautiful buildings in the historic part of the city. Admirers of this masterpiece, dressed by its creators in a neo-Baroque garb, are particularly impressed when they see the interiors. The richly structured interior architecture, the sculptural and, above all, pictorial decoration are among the jewels of the spa city. The interior decoration impresses with its delicately formed and finely gilded stuccoes, numerous sculptures and paintings in decorative cartouches. The architectural design of the building, including the artistic decoration of its interiors and façade, was done by renowned Viennese architects, who achieved a uniform style. The sculptural and pictorial decoration of the interior corresponds perfectly with the architectural design of the building, giving it a supreme elegance. The most precious part of the decoration of the artistically refined theatre palace is the painted curtain, the result of the artistic mastery of a trio of renowned Viennese authors: Gustav and Ernst Klimt and Franz Matsche. The painted curtain is among the most beautiful in Europe and illustrates an allegory expressing a celebration of the art of poetry. The observer may also spot Rococo ornamentation on the curtain with its Makartian figural composition. The author of the sculptural decoration, which is particularly striking in the foyer, is Viennese master sculptor Theodor Freidl. His signature is borne by the sculptures of the Muses on the façade, as well as by the ancient griffons guarding the entrance. The chandelier, as well as all other luminaries and the exquisite Rococo lamps on the stairwell, were designed by the architects Fellner and Helmer themselves. The building, whose creators drew on the legacy of Baroque and Rococo forms, is set right in the centre of the spa area near the main hot spring (Vřídlo). The theatre, with its seven-hundred seats, has excellent acoustics, allowing the guest companies to perform operas on the stage. The authors managed to present an example of pseudo-Rococo architecture in the spirit of the contemporary trend in historicising styles and to seamlessly bring the atmosphere of Prague and Vienna to Karlovy Vary. The Karlovy Vary Theatre, Grandhotel Pupp and Císařské lázně (Imperial Spa) share the same style with a poetic language of refinement and elegance.

TALLOVÁ, Lýdie, CARLSBAD REPORT, Nr. 7/2013, s. ?