- Pražský divadelní almanach: 230 let Stavovského divadla by Ondřej Černý et al.
The Estates Theatre in Prague is the oldest functioning theatre in Prague, its outward appearance much the same as when it opened in 1783. Apart from the occasional modernization the main thing that has changed has been its name. The list of ‘just some’ of its various names on p. 9 of the Pražský divadelníal manach runs to eight, of which the present name, the Stavovské divadlo [Estates Theatre], has been used three times: 1920–39, 1945–8, and from 1991. To celebrate its 230th anniversary the Theatre Institute in Prague has published an ‘Almanac’. Think of it, however, not as the old type of annual theatre almanacs, giving company and repertory details for the past season, but as a book of sixty-six essays, which together provide an account of the theatre from its inception to its most recent history. The short essays—none is longer than five pages—are more or less chronological, but constructed with some freedom so that rather than providing a dogged year-by-year chronicle of what happened, they dwell on interesting and sometimes unexpected topics, such as a fascinating history of the pension society for retired soloists, which ran from 1806 until well into the twentieth century (pp. 39–40). Eight authors, both musicologists and theatre historians, are involved, including the editor Jitka Ludvová, who has taken on the lion’s share of the essays herself.
Though the theatre is well known abroad for its association with Mozart and Weber, within the Czech lands it is a building particularly linked with the early years of Czech-language theatre and opera and has consequently been the subject of many books and studies. What distinguishes this one, however, is the inclusive attitude it takes when positioning the theatre within Czech history. The theatre was built at a time when Czech cultural consciousness was beginning to awaken, and its liberal-minded builder, Count František Antonín Nostic-Rienek, intended it to serve a range of functions and communities including the growing Czech minority. Thus Czech-language plays and operas were there almost from the start, if not in great numbers, until the Czechs acquired their own exclusively Czech house, the Provisional Theatre, in 1862. Earlier Czech descriptions of the Estates Theatre tend to concentrate on the Czech contribution, which, however, accounts for only a small part of the theatre’s activities over its long history. But attitudes are changing. The publication (reviewed in Music & Letters, 94 (2013), 354–7) of Jitka Ludvová’s huge and splendid book on the German Theatre in Prague—almost a taboo topic after 1945 for many years—was one of the first to emphasize the extent of the German contribution to cultural activities in Prague, and it is clear that this book is written in the same spirit, in which Czech activities and achievements mingle equally with German.
The book is commemorative rather than scholarly. There are no footnotes (but a full bibliography on pp. 196–200 and a single-level index on pp. 204–13) and a quarter of the pages are taken up with carefully described and annotated illustrations, many of them in colour, and reproduced to a high standard. Although the book is in Czech (with only a short English résumé), English readers and libraries would certainly find enough of interest in the illustrations alone.
Since, like many Czech theatres of the time, the Estates Theatre provided a stage for all types of genres—ballet, straight theatre, operetta, and opera—only a small proportion of the book is directed at musical activities. [End Page 107] These, however, are some of the most important. In its opening year, it was the first theatre outside Vienna to...