The Rich History of Prague’s Estates Theatre

vi Wikimedia / Jorge Royan
vi Wikimedia / Jorge Royan

One of the landmarks in the area near the Old Town Square is the tall, elegant Estates Theatre. Still in operation as a theatre, it has a rich and fascinating history.

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Count František Antonín Nostic-Rieneck owned the land upon which the theatre was built. He faced stiff opposition in constructing it – the town council, the Charles University, a nearby theatre which feared competition, and several owners of nearby buildings objected to the new building.

However, Nostic-Rieneck had a huge advantage: The approval of Emperor Joseph II. The emperor’s approval far outweighed the disapproval of everyone else, and construction was allowed to proceed.

On June 7, 1781, the foundation stone of the Estates Theatre was laid. While digging work for the foundations was going on, a container was unearthed. The container held silver coins; this was viewed as a good omen for the theatre. Almost two years later, on April 21, 1783, the theatre’s grand opening took place.

On October 29, 1787, the Estates Theatre entered history with the premiere of a new opera.

This opera, written by a fairly frequent visitor to Prague, was Don Giovanni. The composer was, of course, Mozart. Of the theatres where the illustrious composer performed, the Estates Theatre is the only one still in existence. Another luminary to perform in the theatre was Paganini, who gave six concerts there in December of 1828.

As the years went by, the Estates Theatre showed many important works. On February 2, 1826, Dráteník (The Tinker) premiered at the theatre; it was the first opera to be written in Czech.

On December 21, 1834, Josef Kajetán Tyl’s play Fidlovačka had its premiere. At this performance, the song “Where Is My Home” (“Kde domov můj”) was sung in public for the first time. It was performed by famed operatic bass Karel Strakatý. This song, with music by František Škroup and lyrics by Tyl, is now the Czech national anthem.

The theatre was purchased by the Bohemian Estates in 1798, after the death of its founder. It was at that time that it gained the name of Královské stavovské divadlo (Royal Estates Theatre).

In those days, Czech performances were only given on Sundays and holidays. The rest of the time was devoted to performances in either German or Italian. In 1862, the Provisional Theatre was built, and the Czech ensemble decamped. The Estates Theatre was renamed the Deutsches Landestheater (Provincial German Theatre) and offered a German-only program.

In 1920, the Czech ensemble returned, and the theatre became part of the National Theatre on December 5. With the coming of Communism in 1948, the Estates Theatre was renamed Tyl’s Theatre, a name which it kept until 1991.

The Estates Theatre was, very sensibly, used for the theatre scenes in the 1984 film Amadeus. It still offers a rich variety of programs, from dance to music to plays and a great deal more.

For example, the original stage play Amadeus is occasionally performed there. Special New Year’s celebrations are offered every year. For a historic night out, the theatre is hard to beat.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon