The home of opera: The Kärntnertortheater

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The Kärntnertortheater was for many years the centre of opera in Vienna. In 1869 it met with competition in the form of the newly built Court Opera on the Ring and finally had to be closed down.

From 1810 the Kärntnertortheater presented only opera and ballet, after having for many years also been a venue for straight theatre. Increasingly, its patrons came not only from the aristocracy but also from the rising Viennese bourgeoisie. It mounted performances of operas by internationally famous composers with first-rank singers: in 1814, for instance, Ludwig van Beethoven conducted the premiere of his final version of Fidelio. In 1821 the theatre witnessed the first public performance of Franz Schubert’s song ‘Der Erlkönig’. After the theatre had been closed during the Revolution of 1848, Emperor Franz Joseph gave assurances that it would operate as a court theatre and put it under court administration in 1849. Until that point, though far from being a sure-fire profit-maker, it had been leased out. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Kärntnertortheater hosted many wildly successful premieres conducted by well-known composers of the day. In the summer, a season of three months was reserved for the Italians, not only Verdi but also Gioachino Rossini. In the 1858/59 season the theatre saw the first performance in Vienna of a work by Richard Wagner, who was himself to be moved to tears by a performance of Lohengrin at the theatre in 1861.

The Viennese loved their Kärntnertortheater so much that it still continued to operate for almost a year after the opening of the nearby Court Opera on the Ring in 1869. Not until 17 April 1870 did it see its last performance – Rossini’s William Tell – following which it was demolished.

Julia Teresa Friehs