1. 1801
  2. 1845
  3. 1874
  4. 1900
  5. 1955
  6. 1983
  7. 2006


The newly-built Theater an der Wien, 1801

The newly-built Theater an der Wien, 1801

On 13th June, at 7 o’clock in the evening, Emanuel Schikaneder opens the Theater an der Wien as the “Playhouse of imperial and royal privilege” with his own work, the allegorical gala prologue Thespis Traum, and the heroic opera Alexander by Franz Teyber. The theatre’s façade is ochre with Empire style windows while the interior is decorated in blue and silver, the colours red and gold being reserved for the imperial court. It is “more spacious than any in Vienna”, with a capacity of almost 2,000. “Schikaneder is abroad in Vienna’s suburbs where he has built a truly splendid building with furnishings that many an impresario could and should gainfully visit…” (Johann Gottfried Seume on his Spaziergang nach Syracus (Promenade to Syracuse), October 1801).


View of Papagenotor (now Millöckergasse), 1801

View of Papagenotor (now Millöckergasse), 1801

After only two years the patron and his impresario have fallen out and gone bankrupt. Schikaneder is forced to sell the theatre to his bitterest enemy, Peter Freiherr von Braun. However, being in possession of the imperial privilege (as shown by the eagle over the Papageno gate that is still visible today) he retains the post of artistic director and appoints Ludwig van Beethoven director of music and resident composer. On 3rd April 1803 Beethoven’s oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, his 2nd Symphony and his piano concerto in C minor are premiered in an “academy”.


Beethoven’s Fidelio, Eroica and many of his other orchestral works are premiered in the Theater an der Wien, sometimes with Beethoven conducting, sometimes with him as pianist.


Under the direction of the "Gesellschaft der Cavaliere" (Society of Cavaliers) the frequently changing programme, a motley collection of music theatre, comedy, “academy” (concerts) and tragedy, is given a new facet by the addition of fashionable plays about knights and chivalry, beginning on 17th March 1810 with the premiere of Heinrich von Kleist’s Das Käthchen von Heilbronn.


Schikaneder dies in abject poverty and isolation. However, his spirit lives on in his theatre where performances prevail that feature truly spectacular effects, such as tales of sorcery and chivalry with jousting, sword fights and burning castles. One such production is Friedrich von Schiller’s tragedy The Maid of Orleans which requires more than 400 people and 80 horses on stage at once. From 1815 to 1821 “Count Palffy’s children’s ballets” are the star attraction and produce, among others, the dancer Fanny Elssler who later achieves worldwide fame.


Gioacchino Rossini’s operas send a wave of genuine hysteria through Vienna. With the premiere of Franz Grillparzer’s Die Ahnfrau (The Ancestress) a considerable amount of the Austrian classicism that was to survive for two centuries also leaves its mark on the Theater an der Wien.


Ferdinand Raimund performs at the Theater an der Wien for the first time. In 1827 his fairy-tale drama Moisasurs Zauberfluch (The Magic Curse of Moisasur) is premiered, before Johann Nestroy dominates for the next 20 years. Both are commemorated on the iron curtain next to The Magic Flute.


In August the Theater an der Wien is raffled for the first time because the takings are too low to guarantee the financing of further productions. Raffles subsequently provide a source of income for the leaseholders on a number of occasions, although the winners prefer to take their prizes in cash rather than assume responsibility for the theatre! The premiere of Franz Schubert’s opera The Magic Harp and his music for the romantic tragedy Rosamunde show that music theatre and drama are also embracing every new development.


The theatre, now heavily in debt, is taken over by Karl Carl from Munich who, as “Staberl”, quickly wins over the hearts of the Viennese. Comedy spectacles and plays about knights and chivalry draw the crowds while the new impresario treats his actors like extras – and pays them accordingly! In 1827 he also takes over management of the Theater in der Josefstadt and this brings him a new leading man: Wenzel Scholz, the chubby comedian, who is justifiably immortalized on the iron curtain beside Nestroy and Raimund.


The actress Therese Krones and Johann Nestroy join the company at the Theater an der Wien. The ensuing years see a number a successful premieres of Nestroy’s works in which he always plays one of the leading roles and holds up a mirror to contemporary society: Lumpazivagabundus in 1833, Upstairs, Downstairs (Zu ebener Erde und erster Stock) in 1835, Das Haus der Temperamente in 1837, Der Talisman in 1840, Das Mädl aus der Vorstadt in 1841, Einen Jux will er sich machen in 1842, Liebesgeschichten und Heiratssachen in 1843 and Der Zerrissene in 1844.


Imperial and Royal Schauspielhaus an der Wien

Imperial and Royal Schauspielhaus an der Wien

Following a "hostile takeover" (a benefactor paid the theatre’s debts) ownership of the Theater an der Wien passes to Franz Pokorny and the director Karl Carl is forced to move out along with his company. Pokorny’s intention is to stage mainly operas, but despite a sensational season of guest performances by Jenny Lind, the "Swedish nightingale", he rapidly goes bankrupt. After the upheavals of the revolution in 1848 and Pokorny’s death his son Alois assumes responsibility for the theatre, though his period in charge is no more successful than his father’s was. In 1860 the resident composer Franz von Suppé composes Das Pensionat (The Finishing School), the first operetta in Viennese style.


With the arrival of Friedrich Stampfer as director of the theatre, operetta rapidly gains popularity. The resident diva Josefine Gallmeyer, attractive, pert and vivacious, introduces the cancan to Vienna. Marie Geistinger, her strongest rival, is responsible for ensuring that the success enjoyed in Paris by Offenbach’s works La Belle Hélène and The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein is continued at the Theater an der Wien.


This year not only sees Alexander Girardi’s first performance at the Theater an der Wien, it also marks the beginning of the "golden age of Viennese operetta", ushered in on 5th April by the premiere of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. For years to come it is the operettas of Johann Strauss (The Gypsy Baron, 1885), Carl Zeller (Der Vogelhändler, 1891) and Carl Millöcker (The Beggar Student, 1883) that quench the thirst for entertainment of first the Viennese and soon after the whole world with unparalleled charm and music of the very highest quality.


Innenansicht des Kabaretts 'Die Hölle', Foto 1910

Interior view showing the cabaret "Die Hölle", dated 1910

The Biedermeier-style portal with the address "an der Laimgruben 26" is replaced by a residential building in turn-of-the-century style. Later on the cellar of this building will house the cabaret known as Die Hölle (hell), and the denizens of the theatre still refer to his room, which today serves as a bar and buffet where patrons can relax during the interval, by this name. Besides cabaret, evening song recitals and comedies small operettas are premiered here too, among them Fall’s Brüderlein fein and Lehár’s Frühling (Spring).


Theaterzettel 'Die Lustige Witwe' von Franz Lehár, 1906

Theatre flyer "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehár, 1906

With The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár a second successful era begins, the "silver era of Viennese operetta". Besides Lehár the chief protagonists of this era are Emmerich Kálmán, Edmund Eysler, Leo Fall, Bruno Granichstädten and, later on, Ralph Benatzky and Paul Abraham. The special style so characteristic of the Theater an der Wien - top-class entertainment coupled with artistic quality - is maintained for nearly forty years by the director Wilhelm Karczag and his successor and son-in-law Hubert Marischka.


Franz Lehár’s Die gelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket) is premiered at the theatre and returns in 1930 with Richard Tauber as The Land of Smiles.


One last highlight: Sissy, with music by the violinist Fritz Kreisler and with Paula Wessely in the title role, becomes a serial success. 20 years later Hubert Marischka’s brother Ernst will take the same story as the basis of the legendary film Sissi with Romy Schneider in the title role.


With Ralph Benatzky’s Axel an der Himmelstür starring Zarah Leander a long era comes to an end. In the ensuing years the cinema takes over many of the roles previously played by the theatre. The Theater an der Wien is closed before Austria’s annexation to the German Reich in 1938 and languishes unused apart from some events organized by "Kraft durch Freude" (the KdF, literally "strength through joy", a state-controlled leisure organization in the Third Reich), surviving World War II unscathed.


The theatre is reopened on 6th October with a performance of Fidelio by the company of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Josef Krips. In the course of five productions (The Marriage of Figaro in 1945, Don Giovanni and The Escape from the Seraglio in 1946, Così fan tutte in 1947 and finally The Magic Flute in 1948) the legendary “Viennese Mozart style” develops under very specific conditions.


Coinciding with its 150th anniversary the Theater an der Wien, thanks to its extensive repertoire and the engagement of the greatest conductors of the time (Karl Böhm, Hans Knappertsbusch and Clemens Kraus) has attained the status of one of the most important opera houses in Europe.


Canopy, Theater an der Wien, 1962

Canopy, Theater an der Wien, 1962

The State Opera moves into its reconstructed building on the Ringstrasse. Plans are being considered to replace the Theater an der Wien with a large car park or a department store. Fortunately the theatre is not only maintained as a venue for the Vienna Festival, the Wiener Festwochen, it is also lovingly restored and provided with first-class equipment.


Portal, Theater an der Wien, 1962

Portal, Theater an der Wien, 1962

In a ceremony on 28th May the theatre is opened by Austria’s president Adolf Schärf as a venue for the Wiener Festwochen. The opening performance follows two days later with Mozart’s The Magic Flute conducted by Herbert von Karajan.


On 14th June The Last Days of Mankind by Karl Kraus is premiered at the Theater an der Wien.


Under the aegis of impresario Rolf Kutschera the latest musical hits from Broadway are performed in German by the theatre’s own company. These include Anatevka, The Man of La Mancha, Zorba, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, each presented in several runs of 50 to 70 performances.


The Merry Widow is included in the programme as a summer operetta (initially with Johannes Heesters) and is performed every year for the next 13 years. The Italian star tenor Giuseppe di Stefano appears as a guest performer in Lehár’s The Land of Smiles and enjoys huge success.


Helden, Helden (music: Udo Jürgens) becomes the theatre’s first self-penned musical. Two more follow: Das Glas Wasser in 1977 and Die Gräfin vom Naschmarkt in 1978.


Cats begins Peter Weck’s era as director and becomes the first long-running success on the continent. It is followed by The Phantom of the Opera and Freudiana.


Cats begins Peter Weck’s era as director and becomes the first long-running success on the continent. It is followed by The Phantom of the Opera and Freudiana.


In September the acclaimed opera director Harry Kupfer stages the premiere of the musical Elisabeth.


After restoration work and a technical overhaul the musical Mozart! by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay is premiered, again under the direction of Harry Kupfer.


With the last performance of Elisabeth on 4th December the era of musicals at the Theater an der Wien draws to a close. Under its new director Roland Geyer it is to become the City of Vienna’s new opera house from January 2006.



The new opera house is opened on 8th January 2006 with a gala concert led by Plácido Domingo. Besides compositions by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin the programme also includes a premiere: Musik für ein Fest by the Austrian composer Thomas Daniel Schlee.