The management of Prague’s National Theatre this week symbolically launched the planned renovation of the State Opera. The project is set to cost 858 million crowns and will take more than two years, during which time the State Opera will put on productions at other venues. It is the first major renovation job on a large state-owned theatre since 1989.
The historic State Opera in Prague first opened its doors in 1888 as a Prague German stage with a performance of Wagner’s opera the Mastersingers of Nuremburg. The design for the building was drawn up by the Fellner and Hellmer architecture studio in Vienna and also involved the architect of the Vienna Municipal Theater, Karl Hasenauer, while Prague architect Alfons Wertmüller took part in the construction. With a spacious auditorium and neo-Rococo interior, the theatre is considered one of the finest in Europe, albeit one somewhat marred by the communist-era magistrála throughway which cuts through the city.
Extensive renovation was talked about for years but can finally now go ahead – five years after the opera was merged with the National Theatre. National Theatre head Jan Burian describes what's ahead:
“The renovation will affect not only the State Opera, one of the most beautiful in Europe, but also a technical wing. Almost everything will be repaired, from the seating to cloakrooms to historic details.”
Part of the plan is new space for members to practice new productions; audiences too will benefit, for example, being able to use touchscreen displays offering surtitles in several languages after the venue reopens. Stage elements are to be automated and run from a central computer and the main hall is to be restored as closely as possible to its former glory.
Until completion, the Prague State Opera will stage productions are alternative venues such as the Karlín Musical Theatre or the historic National Theatre. Renovation has yet to begin but already the opera and the National Theatre are looking ahead to when the opera building reopens. Jan Burian again:
“We are already preparing to return to the standard system of performances and premieres, which we had to significantly alter for the time being. We are preparing the new repertoire. For now, the State Opera is making use of the National Theatre and Karlín Musical Theatre. For the re-opening, we will have an all new premiere, most likely a famous title, very possibly Wagner.”
The merger of the Prague State Opera and National Theatre was a measure intended to cut costs. The Supreme Audit Office recently revealed, however, that the move had not saved money other than the first year, in 2012, when expenditures fell by eight million crowns, a drop of less than one percent.