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Freihaustheater in Wien 1787-1801. Wirkungsstatte von W. A. Mozart und E. Schikaneder. Sammlung der Dokumente.

Freihaustheater in Wien 1787-1801. Wirkungsstatte von W. A. Mozart und E. Schikaneder. Sammlung der Dokumente. By Tadeusz Krzeszowiak. Vienna: Bohlau, 2009. [496 p. ISBN 9783205777489. [euro]35.] Illustrations, tables, appendices.

The Freihaustheater auf der Wieden is legendary as the theater where Mozart's Die Zauberflote premiered on 30 September 1791. Yet much of the theater's history remained veiled until only recently. Even the name "Freihaustheater" is a misnomer. During its lifetime, the establishment was known as the Wiedner Theater; its popular name came only later in the nineteenth century. Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of Die Zauberflote, managed the Wiedner Theater from 1789 until 1801 when he moved into the new, and still standing, Theater an der Wien. However, little of the theatrical edifice, its repertory, and Schickaneder's managerial activities were known to following generations, other than for tantalizing, but brief descriptions in travel accounts and personal diaries of prominent Viennese historical figures.

Only recently have scholars stepped up to close these lacunae. The first to explore the beginnings of the theater in 1787 up to its closure in 1801 was Otto Erich Deutsch in his "Das Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden," a short but important essay of forty-three pages that appeared in 1937; it was published later that same year in slightly expanded form as a monograph as well (Das Freihaustheater auf der Wieden: 1787-1801 [Vienna: Deutscher Verlag fur Jugend & Volk, 1937]). Deutsch's essay also included a detailed chronology based on the available documentation. In the last decade, several important scholarly studies have included detailed examinations of both the repertory and the music. In her Emanuel Schikaneder. Theaterprinzipal, Schauspieler, und Stuckeschreiber (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1999), Anke Sonnek closely examined Schikaneder's activities as manager, playwright, and actor, and provided a detailed chronology of performances in Nurnberg, Regensburg, Salzburg, and Vienna. Schikaneder's Stein der Weisen provided the impetus for David Buch's investigations into the activities of the theater (in his edition of the work, published by A-R Editions in 2009). Most recently, Michael Lorenz, an indefatigable detective of all things Mozartean, has published new research into the history of the Wiedner Theater ("Neue Forschungsergebnisse zum Theater auf der Wieden und Emanuel Schikaneder," Wiener Geschichtsblatter 63, no. 4 [2008]: 15-36), a work richly deserving English publication.

Tadeusz Krzeszowiak is the longtime technical director of the Theater an der Wien. His Freihaustheater in Wien 1787-1801. Wirkungsstatte von W. A. Mozart und E. Schikaneder weighs in at almost five hundred pages, and the well-bound and handsomely produced book includes more than 250 illustrations--many well known, others less so--and extensive chronologies. The key to the entire book is its subtitle, as it offers a collection of documents. At first the book is quite promising, with Krzeszowiak preferring to let extensive extracts from correspondence, documents, newspaper reports, and similar material speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the author's seriously flawed scholarly methodologies, along with the lack of detailed indexes and bibliographies seriously derail it.

Divided into eight chapters and twelve appendices, Freihaustheater in Wien surveys first the Viennese theater scene with its government censorship, the activities of the Burgtheater, and the construction of the suburban theaters outside the city walls after 1776 when Joseph II permitted theaters to operate outside of royal purview. These included the Theater in the Josefstadt and the Leopoldstadttheater (later the Carltheater, closed in 1929). The histories of the Freihaus, the largest residential complex in Vienna with over two hundred apartments, and its owner, the Starhemberg family, form the core of chapter 2. An examination of the first two years of the "Theater in the Freihaus" before Schikaneder's arrival in 1789 follows in chapter 3. So far, so good.

Chapters 4 and 5 provide information about Schikaneder's life and theatrical activities up to 1791 and about the preparations for the first performances of Die Zauberflote. However, the book goes seriously awry with the author's penchant for publishing every possible document and every illustration--many not relevant--seemingly related to the Wiedner Theater. An example is the exhaustive examination of the so-called "Zauberflote-Hauschen" with its furniture where Mozart supposedly composed part of the opera; there is no direct evidence he did so.

Chapter 6 moves completely off topic with a 130-page biography of Mozart, consisting mostly of documents easily found in most standard works, in particular Deutsch's Mozart, die Dokumente seines Lebens (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1961), and Cliff Eisen's supplementary volume to Deutsch's work (New Mozart Documents: A Supplement to O. E. Deutsch's Documentary Biography [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991]). Many illustrations with accompanying text are superfluous to the topic of the book. Krzeszowiak includes a family photograph that allegedly includes Constanze, Mozart's wife, seated amidst a group of people; but this allegation has been irrefutably disproved by Lorenz.

The activities of the Wiedner Theater post-Zauberflote form the basis of chapter 7, with extensive documentation of not only the operas and plays performed, but also of the goings-on behind the scenes. Extensive extracts from lawsuits, minutes of business meetings, and contracts abound, as well as from the plays and Singspiele from the period.

Krzeszowiak is in familiar territory in his final chapter, which focuses on eighteenth-century stage lighting and theater technology. He performs a service by including illustrations to accompany the history of lighting, beginning with oil lamps, candles, and Argand lamps that arrived at the end of the century. Twelve appendices of performance chronologies, dates of first performances, and lists of Schikaneder's plays, librettos, and other documents close the book. What is puzzling, given the author's breadth of coverage, is the lack of any reference to the famous 1794 Schaffer illustrations of a production that may very well have been based on the first staging of Die Zauberflote at the Wiedner Theater and its rich use of theatrical lighting and stage machinery.

The lack of an index and bibliography of the works cited is crippling, making it difficult, without extensively going back and forth, to locate or track the primary and secondary sources within the book. Accuracy of the transcriptions must be treated with caution. Many attributions are out of date and erroneously transcribed, as are many of the shelf marks. The library of the Austrian Theater Museum is cited as being a part of the Austrian National Library; such is not the case. In 1991, the Theater Museum, along with its library, separated from the National Library and became an independent entity; ten years later, the institution became a part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Finally, many performances at the Wiedner Theater are missing from the chronology, and it seems that while the author cites the locations of the originals, he did not personally check all of the posters found in the Viennese archives.

Freihaustheater in Wien 1787-1801, while welcome, is a seriously Hawed work. This is regrettable, for there is much fascinating and rare material published here. Should another edition or an English translation be contemplated, rigorous editing, proofreading, and control of the source material would be necessary. Only then will this book fulfill its potential to recount the rich history that the Wiedner Theater deserves.


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Author:Baker, Evan
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Date:Sep 1, 2010
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