Built in 1783 by Anton Haffenecker in a classical style of architecture, The Estates Theatre is the oldest theatre still standing in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction was initiated by the enlightened aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck, led by the desire to aggrandise his native city as well as the souls of its inhabitants. The actual construction was accomplished in less than two years and the theatre was officially opened in 1783 with a premier of Lessing’s civic tragedy Emilia Galotti. In 1798 members of the Czech Estate bought the theatre and since then, the theatre was called Royal Theatre of the Estates. The Estates Theatre, together with the State Opera, has been a part of the Prague National Theatre since 1920 and has a regular program of operas and theatre plays.
A theatre devoted to the homeland and the muses.
The construction, one of the most beautiful historical theatres in Europe, was sponsored by the aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck. For this reason, the theatre first came to be known as the Rieneck Theatre. This, for the Prague of those days, exceptionally significant project corresponded to the spirit prevailing at the end of the 18th century, when it was customary to build theatres at European courts, to promote enlightenment in the belief that theatres open to the general public served as a moral institution demonstrating the cultural standards of a nation. Inscribed above the portal is the motto Patriae et Musis (To the Homeland and the Muses), which illustrates the grandiosity of the founder’s initial intention, and which has maintained its validity to the present day. Following its affiliation to the National Theatre with its motto The Nation for Itself, the two became natural corelates.
Mozart and the Estates Theatre.
The Theatre of the Estates is permanently associated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is worldwide famous as the place where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni (29th October 1787 – which Mozart himself conducted) and the opera La Clemenza di Tito (1791), to mark the coronation of Leopold II. After conducting another of his famous operas, Le Nozze di Figaro, in Vienna, where it wasn’t received well, Mozart decided to try his luck in Prague. Here it was an instant success and Mozart was given an offer to write an opera for the Estates Theatre. He had half a year to finish his work, but due to certain unforeseeable circumstances, Mozart started to write the opera only on the way to Prague. To the great dismay of the audience, the premiere was postponed several times. In the end, Mozart had to set the date of October 29th, and the last parts of Don Giovanni were written just a few hours before the performance started. Despite the long delay, Mozart received a standing ovation that, some historians say, lasted close by half an hour. Prague was won over! To commemorate Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a statue of Il Commendatore was installed next to the theatre’s entrance in 2000. The Estates Theatre is the only theater in the world where you can watch Mozart’s opera performed on the original stage. Several founding generations of Czech theatre-makers were actively involved in the Estates Theatre. From the pioneers, the brothers Thám, J. N. Štěpánek, to Klicpera, J. K.Tyl, J. J. Kolár, etc. Also appearing on this stage was, for example, K. H. Mácha, while the first Czech modern opera – Škroup’s The Tinker – was presented here in 1826. The song “Where is My Home”, which would later become the Czech national anthem, was first sung in 1834. Throughout its history, the Estates Theatre allured a host of distinct artists of Europe-wide significance: Carl Maria von Weber held the post of musical director; Angelika Catalani sang here; the violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini gave a concert; Arthur Rubinstein, Carl Goldmark and Gustav Mahler conducted at the Theatre. Other famous names include the actors W. A. Iffland, F. Raimund, J. N. Nestroy, Wenzl Scholze, Ira Aldrige, Rachel, and many others.
Did you know that?
・When the Nostitz family was selling their theatre to the Estates, they included one interesting condition in their contract. According to this condition, one balcony in the theatre’s stage should always belong to their family.
・The oldest member of the Nostic Rieneck family, Mathilda Nostitz, still owns the balcony in the Estates Theatre and takes care of the building.