Theater an der Wien
In 1791, Mozart helped his friend Emanuel Schikaneder, an impresario, actor and librettist, out of dire financial straits. He composed The Magic Flute, which premiered at Schikaneder’s “Freihaustheater” and was not only a resounding artistic success, but also a financial one, enabling Schikaneder to begin building the “Theater an der Wien” (Theater on the Vienna River). The new theater, larger and more resplendent than all other theaters in Vienna, took only a year to complete. It would remain the city’s most modern and spacious theater until the new Royal Opera was built in 1869.
Between 1869 and 2005, the Theater an der Wien was successively “built up”. Originally an isolated building, it was submerged in the grid of the growing city to the point that its alignment was changed, its access axis shifted by 90 degrees, and its sides were blocked. Around 2005, the Theater an der Wien had to be entered by going through a tenement building on Wienzeile road.
Preparing for the Mozart Year, the City of Vienna decided to relaunch the Theater an der Wien as the “Mozart Theater an der Wien” in 2005. This required a number of structural measures, and an invited competition was held to determine the best possible solution.
For an opera house – a place where operas, the most sublime form of music theater and perhaps even of theater as a whole, will be performed – the Theater an der Wien has a surprising position. It stands in the back row. It is not easily visible. Though its building mass is enormous, it lacks presence as a building or form, true to its diminutive acronym “thaw”. It is submerged by the anonymous urban mass. It is part of the urban texture. To be sure, that was not the intention of its designers. The present-day situation was most certainly not what anyone had intended. It was probably not brought about deliberately; what we see now just sort of happened. In terms of urban planning, it is a major disaster, most likely caused by a series of accidents, each of them having been forgotten by the time the next one happened. No driveway, no forecourt, no building, no vestibule – instead, there is a lobby that has been palmed off on a neighboring building like a hatchling cuckoo, and an expressway where a hefty portal sits, confusing onlookers as to whether it might not be just a monumental portal with no building attached.
The situation deserves to be noted. It is indicative of the distracted quality of these new times. Space allocation plans, arias and songs overflow from their historical containers, flooding neighboring buildings and urban space, bisected by roads, truncated by commercial interests, permeated by engine noise. And yet, the songs and plans continue to resonate. That’s what’s fascinating to me.