History of Burgtheater in Vienna

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Burgtheater founded under Maria Theresia

Today’s Burgtheater was founded on 14 March 1741 under the reign of Empress Maria Theresia, who wanted a theatre close to her imperial palace (Hofburg). Her son and the next Austrian Emperor Joseph II named it German National Theatre in 1776.

Mozart in Burgtheater

The following years were the times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Vienna and three of Mozart’s operas had their premieres in Burgtheater: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) in 1782, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) in 1786, and Cosi fan tutte (Thus Do They All) in 1790.

Imperial and royal theatre

In 1794 the theatre was renamed to K.K. Hoftheater nächst der Burg. K.K. stands for kaiserlich und königlich or imperial and royal – this abbreviation was frequently used to mark the Habsburg Empire. The full translation of the theatre’s name would be Imperial and Royal Court Theatre next to the Castle.

Burgtheater building at Ringstrasse

On 14 October 1888 the theatre moved to its today’s building at Ringstrasse. The building was designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer. These two architects also designed the New Hofburg and the twin museums in Vienna: Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of Natural History) and Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History).

Burgtheater during World War II

During the World War II Austria fell under the Nazi rule and the influence of that regime was visible also at the stage of Burgtheater. For example, in 1943 Burgtheater featured an extremely tilted version of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, a play still controversial due to its possible anti-Semitic interpretation. The character of Shylock was performed by the well-known Nazi actor Werner Krauss.

At the end of World War II, on 12 March 1945, Burgtheater building was heavily damaged in a bombing. One month later there was a fire which caused further damage.

Burgtheater after the war and today

In the 1950s the building of Burgtheater underwent a restoration and came back to its tradition of fame and quality. In these days it serves again the function of Austrian National Theatre and it is one of the most famous German language theatres in the world.

For more information about Burgtheater today, including directions and contact, see the article about Burgtheater here on Wien Vienna.