Because theaters were intended to educate the simple folk as much as entertain royalty, tickets to a theater piece were intentionally maintained very low. Tickets remain low today as well. The cheapest ticket is three Euro while the most expensive ticket is 59 Euro. Additionally, all of the plays presented at the Imperial Court Theater were translated and performed in German, so that everyone can understand.
When the Burgtheater that we know today was built in 1888, Franz Joseph was so impressed by the painters of the “Künstlercompagnie” (Artists’ Company) that he gave them golden star for services rendered and each of them got their own salary. This was very unusual for artists in the service of the state because they were normally paid very poorly. The gallery below is of a few of the paintings inside the Burgtheater and with some background information, thanks to our lovely tour guide.
The Austrian Imperial Theater was created in 1741 because Maria Theresa wanted a theater close to her home. However, it was not this theater. This one was created in 1888 when Franz Joseph was creating the Ringstrasse. The Burgtheater was designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer. They initially designed the theater with a dome ceiling, which is great for operas but distorts the words too much for plays. The Austrians were said to have a saying: "At the new opera you can't see anything, at the new parliament you can’t hear anything, at the new theater you can't see or hear anything." It was kept like this for nine years until in 1897, the roof was reconstructed with a slanted ceiling.
This is the archduke's staircase. The paintings on the ceiling depict the history of the theater from antiquity until early 19th century. When the theater was reconstructed in 1886, the “Künstlercompagnie” (Artists’ Company), comprising of Gustav and Ernst Klimt as well as Franz Matsch, was hired to create the paintings.
During the Second World War, the theater was closed down to save money. In March 1945, a carrier bomb crashed into the ceiling of the theater and went down through the back stage. The next month, a fire broke out destroying the whole theater except the two main staircases. The theater was reconstructed and reopened on October 11, 1955.
In 1776, when Joseph II was in power, he banned plays that were critical of the monarchy. Socrates' plays, which were all critical of monarchies, could still be performed in the theater but they would have to be rewritten. He also decided that all plays should have a happy ending. His reason for this was that he believed that if people left the theater frustrated, they might develop negative thoughts about the political situation. With the uprising in France and other European countries at the time, Joseph II was not willing to take the chance. The period from 1776 until 1816 Weiner Schluss (or Viennese happy ending) theaters.
Thespis' Chariot was painted by the Klimt brothers. It depicts the first recorded actor from 550 BC, Thespis from ancient Greece. He performed one man plays and while none of his tragedies or comedies survived to this day, he is always credited as paving the way for modern theater. Dionysos Theatre in Athens is the largest painting in the archduke staircase is of the theater in Athens. It was painted by Franz Matsch. The female at the base of the Sophocles statue is Katarina Schratt, Franz Joseph's mistress. Whenever Franz Joseph would go to the theater, a servant would hold a mirror out in front of him as the shirts in his day were so starched that he could not tilt his head back.
This was the first painting the company painted. Specifically, it was painted by Gustav Klimt. It depicts the final scene from Romeo and Juliet in the Globe Theater. The three young men watching on the right are the painters. The gentleman in the velvet is Ernst Klimt, the man in the middle is Franz Matsch and the one to the right is Gustav Klimt. (This is the only known self-portrait of Gustav Klimt.) They painted their faces into this painting not so much that they related to the tragic play as much as they thought they would get more commissions if their faces were better known.
The grand foyer was completely reconstructed in the 1940s and 50s due to the World War II bomb and the fire. The marble on the left is actually an illusion. It's wood painted to look like marble to save on costs. The grand foyer houses the gallery of the Burgtheater. Originally, actors were painted in the costumes of their best known character, like the one displayed here. However, with the advent of photography, they started to be painted in normal clothes. (An interesting fact: this painting was originally not that big. The bottom part of her skirt was later painted in. If you look closely, you can see where the addition was made.)
Antique improviser is one of the paintings in the staircase for high Austrian nobility. Franz von Matsch painted a tribute to all of the forgotten artists that came before recorded theater history. Those who just told stories but didn't act were the precursors to theater today. Antique theatre in Taormina is the only painting that does not depict a theater scene. While there is a stage in the background, the scene is set a a fictional senator's mansion. It's a showing of decadence. While all of the three females on the bottom left were initially naked, the female currently in red complained to the theater when she noticed herself. Gustav Klimt had a tendency to paint people from memory. At this time, Klimt was not famous and the lady did not want herself portrayed in such a way. Later, people would pay to have him paint them. Medieval mystery play was painted by Franz von Matsch. It shows that Christian morality plays were done in marketplaces and in front of churches all over Europe with the intent on educating the simple people on the Christian idea.