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Time suspended, two small baroque court theaters crystallized over time
Two perfectly preserved baroque court theaters

Two small Baroque court theaters have come down to us intact, as if crystallized over time, one in Sweden, the other in the Czech Republic: the Drottningholm Palace Theater in Stockholm, and the Český Krumlov Castle Theater in South Bohemia, both inscribed on the UNESCO heritage list. 

What makes the two theaters extraordinary is not so much the persistence of the architecture, but the perfect conservation of the props, the backdrops and the equipment: a miracle due to the fall into disuse and oblivion. The Český Krumlov theater, used only sporadically after the 1880s, did not undergo any restructuring or looting until 1966, when it was decided to start an accurate restoration which ended after more than thirty years in 1997, with the reopening at visits and theatrical performances.

The Drottningholm Theater, also no longer in operation since the end of the 18th century, first became a deposit for the castle's disused furniture and was then incredibly - thanks to the masonry of the entrance door - completely forgotten until its rediscovery in 1921. Reopened after brief restorations the following year, since the 1950s it has been regularly used for the representation of shows during a summer festival.

The Český Krumlov Castle Theater

The first of these extraordinary theaters is located in Bohemia, inside the Český Krumlov Castle (Krumau), a grandiose monumental complex located on a rocky spur, surrounded to the south by the Vltava and to the north by the Polečnice River. Due to its architecture and its historical significance, it is one of the most important monumental sites in Central Europe; after Prague Castle, it is also the second largest historical building in the Czech Republic.

The Castle area covers an area of seven hectares, and includes 40 buildings including several palaces, five monumental courtyards and gardens. Inside the complex there are precious Renaissance and Baroque rooms, and art collections that span a time span of five centuries.

The theater, located in the fifth of the courtyards, was built between 1680 and 1682 as part of the baroque transformation of the castle commissioned by Prince John Christian of Eggenberg (1641-1710) who, following the example of other great European courts like the one in Vienna, he had a splendid wooden theater building built.

The prince, a cultured man, a great lover of art, had set up a musical chapel (directed for some time by the Italian Domenico Bartoli) and a permanent theater company; he also cultivated a keen interest in Italian opera, which he had known during the Grand Tour, and on which he was constantly updated on the occasion of the various trips that led him to Italy as lord of the County of Gradisca; in fact he bought librettos and scores which are still found today in the fond of Český Krumlov.

Giovanni Cristiano died in 1710 without children; the castle then passed on to the family of his wife, Maria Ernestina di Schwarzenberg. It was Prince Giuseppe Adamo di Schwarzenberg (1722 - 1782), another great patron at whose court all the arts flourished, who ordered the reconstruction of the theater, now deteriorated. The new building, which still exists today, was built between 1765 and 1766, this time in masonry. The project is probably due to Andrea Altomonte (1699 - 1780), also active at the imperial court in Vienna as an architect and set designer.

After the death of Prince Giuseppe Adamo, the theater was used only sporadically; therefore, it did not undergo subsequent renovations or tampering, and the eighteenth-century structure was able to be preserved almost intact.

In addition to the building itself with the stage and the orchestral pit, most of the stage machines are intact and functioning; Thirteen complete sets are also preserved (consisting of backdrops, wings, skies, elevations etc.), about fifty machines for special effects (for example sound effects such as thunderstorms, wind, etc.), over 200 elements for lighting, a hundreds of props, and more than 500 costumes and clothing accessories.

The stage machine, built entirely of wood, requires a staff of 35 people to operate; it is completed by walkways, mobile frames, lifting winches, rollers, rope guides and a sliding ramp. The original floor of the stage has also been preserved, equipped with sliding panels and four hatches.

It is possible to make changes of scene on sight without interrupting the show; among the depths still preserved today are a colonnaded hall, a military camp, a view of the city, a forest, etc.

Furthermore, a very rich collection of about 2,400 volumes of various texts has come down to the present day: 400 volumes of librettos, texts and scenarios of dramas, comedies and ballets, about 300 volumes of scores and scores, as well as archival materials - invoices , instructions, lists, inventories, plans, iconographic documents - which constitute a very precious source of information on the theatrical life of the time.

In summer, the annual Baroque Festival offers a wonderful opportunity to watch the shows represented with sets, costumes and special effects of the time.

Castello di Český Krumlov

Drottningholms Slottsteater

The small court theater of Drottningholm Castle (Stockholm) - today the private residence of the Royals of Sweden - was built in 1766 at the behest of Queen Luisa Ulrika (1720 - 1782), younger sister of the King of Prussia Frederick II.

Luisa Ulrika had married the 24-year-old Crown Prince Adolfo Frederick of Sweden, who ascended the throne in 1751.

Brilliant and cultured, a supporter of the Enlightenment like her brother, the new queen of Sweden fostered a lively cultural and artistic life. The Drottningholm Theater is part of this context, a sober building designed by the architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz (1716-1796), built on the site of a previous building, which was destroyed in 1762 by a fire. The interior, decorated by Adrien Masreliez, is perfectly preserved. A peculiarity of the theater is the T-shaped plan, with the thrones for the reigning couple placed in front of the stage in the cruise; Also noteworthy is the depth of the stage (8.2 x 17.4 m), which, by means of optical illusions, made it possible to simulate very large spaces.

The state of conservation of the scenic machines (perhaps designed by the Italian Donato Stoppani) is extraordinary, driven by rollers, ropes, counterweights and other devices, still fully functional, integrated by devices for the creation of special effects, such as thunder, wind, clouds. , waves in motion; About thirty sets have also arrived intact, reproducing the various environments in which the stories represented were placed.

Still intact is the system of lanes and winches that allow the scene change on sight, at the incredible speed of six seconds; for each show it is possible to make up to four scene changes; other devices still used are those for special effects, such as a machine for simulating waves, another that creates sound effects of thunder and storm, and a flying chariot used for the spectacular entrances to the "deus ex machina" . The lighting (now achieved by means of sophisticated devices that simulate the flickering of the flames and the chromatic temperature of the candles), can be modified by orienting the metal candle holders in various directions.

The theater was used regularly for the presentation of Italian operas and French dramas until the death of King Adolfo Federico in 1771; after a few years of inactivity, it experienced a new period of splendor when in 1777 it passed into the hands of the son of Luisa Ulrika, the new king Gustavo III.

Gustavo had a keen interest in theater, and he called several artistic personalities to Drottningholm: Jacques Marie Boutet known as Monvel, actor and playwright, the composers Naumann and Kraus, the dance teacher Gallodier, the architect and set designer Louis Jean Desprez. Productions included works by Gluck, opéras comiques, French classical dramas, ballets and pantomimes. The king also encouraged the use of the Swedish language and local themes, aimed at creating a new Swedish dramaturgy.

After the assassination of Gustavo III in 1792 (the story that Verdi dramatized in Masked ball), the theater was closed, to be subsequently used as a deposit for the castle's disused furniture, and finally fell into complete oblivion.

When literary historian Agne Beijer crossed the threshold of the theater in 1921, you discover a kind of sleeping beauty, a place that has remained miraculously intact since the late 18th century. After the replacement of the ropes and other deteriorated elements, a thorough cleaning and the installation of electricity, the magnificent theater was reopened in the summer of 1922; from 1935, seasonal posters were gradually programmed.

Currently the theater stages new productions of works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and every summer it attracts numerous spectators from all over the world. The Summer Festival focuses primarily on the works of Haydn, Handel, Gluck and Mozart, and places special emphasis on historically informed performance. The settings make use of all the spectacular scenic effects developed by the Baroque theatricality, giving a magical dip into the past to those who attend.

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