Following prevailing practice in German-speaking Europe, the major theatres in Vienna and in most of the provincial capitals are run as repertory theatres. They employ a relatively stable ensemble of actors and offer a repertory of own productions, usually on a rotating schedule with daily changing performances. Guest performances and co-productions are occasionally offered, but tend to remain the exception because of the complex organisational structures of the big theatres. Austria’s major repertory theatres are the Burgtheater, the Vienna State Opera, the Volkstheater and the Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna, as well as stages in the provincial capitals, including the Bühnen Graz , Landestheater Linz and the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck.
Vienna’s leading drama and opera stages, the Burgtheater and the Vienna State Opera, were historically court theatres which came into the possession of the newly-founded Republic in 1919, hence the designation Bundestheater (“Federal Theatres”). The functions and operations of the Bundestheater organisation are governed by federal law . The Bundestheater holding company, which reports to the competent government ministry, acts as an umbrella for its subsidiary organisations: the Burgtheater, State Opera and Volksoper (the latter opera house was integrated into the Bundestheater organisation in 1955) and the theatre service company ART for ART . With about 2,500 staff and an annual budget of more than €253m, the Bundestheater holding company describes itself as “the biggest theatre company worldwide” .
In addition to its main building on the Ringstrasse boulevard – erected in 1888 and modelled on the Semper Opera in Dresden – the Burgtheater has offered productions at its second major venue, the Akademietheater, since 1922, and in recent years has added another stage, the Kasino am Schwarzenbergplatz. The Burgtheater defines itself as Austria’s national theatre, the country’s leading drama stage and one of Europe’s foremost spoken theatre institutions. With more than 880 annual performances at its different venues, the Burgtheater attracts about 430,000 theatregoers per year.
Claus Peymann, director of the Burgtheater between 1986 and 1999, left a lasting imprint on the institution, producing world premieres of plays by Austrian playwrights such as Thomas Bernhard, Peter Turrini and Elfriede Jelinek and turning the Burgtheater into a locus of intense public debates about Austria’s cultural and political identity, as well as its 20th-century history. These public confrontations reached a climax with the highly controversial production of Thomas Bernhard’s last play, Heldenplatz, in 1988. The Burgtheater continues to attract directors and actors from all of German-speaking Europe and beyond . Many of its productions have earned international recognition, as evidenced by regular invitations to events such as the Berlin Theatertreffen.
The current director of the Burgtheater is Karin Bergmann, who will continue to head the theatre until 2019.
The Vienna State Opera
"The Vienna State Opera is an eminent opera and ballet venue and widely regarded as one of the leading opera stages worldwide; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire.” The State Opera building was completed in 1869 as part of the development of Vienna’s Ringstrasse boulevard. Outstanding conductors, including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan and Lorin Maazel, have led performances at the Vienna State Opera. Its orchestra is recruited from among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic. The Vienna State Opera also hosts the annual Vienna Opera Ball .
Its current director Dominique Meyer took office in 2010, replacing Ioan Holender, who held the position from 1991 to 2010.
Located on Währinger Gürtel in Vienna’s 9th district, the Volksoper has served as a music theatre since 1903. From 1945 to 1955 it was used as a replacement location for Vienna State Opera performances. It was subsequently integrated into the Bundestheater organisation and offers a programme of opera, operetta and musicals . Robert Meyer, a former member of the Burgtheater ensemble, has held the position of director since 2007. The Volksoper is Vienna’s only stage that focuses on traditional operetta , working to modernise the genre and re-establish its popular appeal.
The Vienna State Ballet has been managed jointly by Staatsoper and Volksoper since 2005 .
Other major theatres in Vienna
In addition to the stages under the Bundestheater umbrella, Vienna has several other major theatres which were historically founded and managed by private owners or civic associations as a deliberate counterpoint to the culture of the court and the aristocracy
An association of Viennese citizens including playwright Ludwig Anzengruber founded the “Deutsches Volkstheater” in 1889 as a stage for the German-speaking middle classes of Vienna, independent of and indeed in deliberate opposition to the court theatres . Architects Fellner & Helmer designed the building on the edge of the city centre, including many technical features that were brand new at the time. Among other things, the Volkstheater was one of the first stages with electric lighting, and was used as a blueprint for many other theatres in continental Europe, including the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg .
In 1988, Emmy Werner was the first woman to become director of one of Vienna’s major stages. During more than 17 years in office as Volkstheater director, she developed distinctive programmes based on dramas featuring “strong women” and regular premieres of plays by contemporary Austrian writers, among them Gert Jonke and others. Her successor Michael Schottenberg added broadly popular formats to the programme, but also worked to confront the difficult historical issues of Austria’s past under Nazi rule on the stage . The Volkstheater also runs a programme of performances at 19 venues outside the city centre (“Volkstheater in den Bezirken”). It is the only major Viennese stage to offer a touring programme of this kind, which covers 14 of Vienna’s 23 districts .
Anna Badora, previously director of the Schauspielhaus in Graz, was appointed as the new head of the Volkstheater in 2015. In recent years, the “Hundsturm” theatre in Vienna’s 5th district has been added as a permanent second venue, operating under the name Volx/Margarethen.
Theater in der Josefstadt
The Theater in der Josefstadt was founded in 1788, making it the oldest theatre in Vienna that is still operating today . The present building dates back to 1822. In 1924, Max Reinhardt had the house remodelled in the sumptuous style of Venetian theatres. The Kammerspiele serves as the theatre’s second venue in Vienna city centre .
With about 700 performances per season, the Josefstadt attracts an audience of more 350,000. Its operating income from ticket sales and sponsorship covers 37.9 of expenditure, a share that is higher than at most other major spoken theatre institutions in Austria. A mainstay of Josefstadt’s operational success is its stock of regular patrons, many of them holding subscriptions for decades. Highly popular actors, including Otto Schenk and Helmuth Lohner, both of whom also served as directors of the theatre, helped to build the exceptional loyalty of the Josefstadt audience. Josefstadt’s current director Herbert Föttinger has successfully broadened the house’s programme with new plays and formats.
Theater der Jugend
With nearly 47,000 subscribers and ticket sales of about 300,000 per year, Theater der Jugend is one of Europe’s largest theatre organisations for children and young people. Its productions are put on at two venues, the Renaissance-Theater near Mariahilfer Strasse and the centrally located Theater im Zentrum. Subscriptions also include productions staged by other Viennese theatres , as well as a broad range of educational offerings. Under its director Thomas Birkmeir (since 2002), Theater der Jugend is bringing a growing list of world and national premieres to its young audiences.
Vereinigte Bühnen Wien
Vereinigte Bühnen Wien (VBW) is a subsidiary of Wien Holding GmbH, which is owned by the City of Vienna. Founded as a company in 1987, VBW stages productions of musicals at the Raimundtheater, a former operetta theatre in Vienna’s 6th district dating back to 1893, and at the centrally located Ronacher, which was originally founded in 1888 as Etablissement Ronacher and redeveloped at a cost of €34.1m in 2008. Until 2005, musicals were also performed at the Theater an der Wien near the Secession building.
Successful VBW productions have gone on international tours after running for several years in Vienna, especially in the 1990s with performances in Europe, Asia and North America. The most successful productions included Elisabeth, which premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1992, and Dance of the Vampires, first staged at the Raimundtheater in 1997.
The Theater an der Wien, which dates back to 1801, shifted its focus to opera in 2006. Under its director Roland Geyer it is run under a stagione system that also relies on international guest performances and co-productions. Performances were offered on 112 days in the 2012/13 season. The Theater an der Wien has been using the Kammeroper as a second venue since 2012.
VBW received €37.1m of public funding annually until 2013. In 2014, the volume of subsidies was raised by €4.9m. Reductions are planned to bring the total volume of public support down to €40m by 2017 .
Outside Vienna, most performances are offered by repertory theatres in the provincial capitals covering both spoken and music theatre genres.
The city of Graz, capital of the province of Styria, is home to a 1,200-seat opera house, second only to the Vienna State Opera in size, which dates back to 1899, the Schauspielhaus theatre in the city centre, and the Next Liberty theatre for young audiences. Together, the three institutions of the Bühnen Graz offer about 140 music and 300 drama performances, as well as 150 performances for young people every year, most of them in-house productions created by the resident companies (as of 2012/13).
The Landestheater Linz in Upper Austria has consolidated its artistic and budgetary position in recent years following the 2013 completion of a new auditorium for music theatre , whose construction had been delayed for several years. The Landestheater regularly earns recognition beyond the confines of the region with its performances of spoken drama and ballet, as well as its programmes for young audiences.
In the province of Tyrol, the first historical traces of the regional Tiroler Landestheater Innsbruck date back as far as 1629, when its first predecessor, a “Comedie House” modelled on Italian stages, was built close to the theatre’s present location . The Tiroler Landestheater offers about 430 performances per year (as of 2012/13), covering music theatre, drama, ballet and programmes for young audiences at several venues, among which Grosses Haus and Kammerspiele are the biggest auditoriums.
The Landestheater Salzburg serves as one of the venues of the summer Salzburg Festival, in addition to offering about 360 performances during the regular theatre season. The multi-genre theatre puts on drama and music theatre productions as well as formats for young audiences. Moreover, the Landestheater stages one production per season at the Grosses Festspielhaus of the Salzburg Festival and at the Mozart House .
The Stadttheater Klagenfurt in Carinthia offers about 220 performances per year – mainly drama and music, as well as children’s and youth events.
Other regional stages with resident theatre companies include the Vorarlberger Landestheater Bregenz and, since 2004, the Landestheater Niederösterreich in Sankt Pölten, respectively located in Austria’s westernmost and easternmost provinces, Vorarlberg and Lower Austria. The town of Baden near Vienna is home to the operetta stage Bühne Baden.