05 Opera house
Baroque theater and Italian theater originating in the 16th century constantly developed to become the theaters of today
Development of Baroque theaters and the birth of opera and ballet
The type of theaters born as the regeneration of Roman theaters in the Renaissance period went through a complex transformation starting from the 16th century, influenced by the social structure of the times, such as the European courtly culture and kingship. These theaters are collectively referred to as the Baroque theaters.
Ballet was born in France in the 16th century. In the late 16th century, the foundation for absolute monarchy was established in France. Absolute monarchy is based on the theory of the divine right of kings, which means kings are granted mandate over the country from God. It is the idea that the right of the king is granted by God, and will not be restricted by people or the church. Thus, in order to demonstrate that the king is appropriate for being granted the power, a dramatic spectacle (spectacular performance using large-scale devices and ambitious staging) began to be held in ceremonies like weddings or coronations, with the king himself playing the leading role.
It is told that the first kind of ballet was the Ballet Comique de la Reine (Figure A), performed during the wedding celebration for Princess Marguerite de Lorraine-Vaudemont and Anne de Joyeuse, which took place in Palais du Louvre in 1581. An episode from Greek mythology, featuring the sacrificed princess Andromeda and the hero Perseus, was performed. The spectacle featured Duke Joyeuse, who dressed up as Perseus, slayed the monster, and saved Princess Marguerite in the role of Andromeda, and the arrival of peaceful days, with courtiers and ladies including Queen Louise also playing various roles. Performers took their places across the entire hall in a geometric pattern and performed before commoners who were invited to the balcony seats set up along the side walls of the hall. The dynamic composition of the theater was not restricted to the framed stage using one-point perspective representation but audiences looked at the performance of aristocrats that spread all the way to the other end from side and above. This was characteristic of the spectacles in the Baroque period.
Opera was born in Italy, around the same time as the burgeoning of ballet. It is said that the opera was started by musicians and poets called camerata, who gathered under the patronage of Count Giovanni de’ Bardi of Florence and demanded to revive Greek plays. However, around the same time in France, a similar spectacle was being performed by royal people. One of the examples of such opera is the drama of a sea fight (Figure B) performed in the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti for the wedding ceremony of Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Cristina. Realistic sailing ships were set up and a sea battle was reproduced right before the audience members’ eyes. Thus, opera was born from the academic desire for a return to the classics from one side, and court spectacles from the other side.
Another thing that was indispensable for the birth of opera theaters is the multi-layered balcony seats that circled around the ground-floor seats. Already in 1668, an opera house with multi-layered balcony seats (Figure C) had been built in Vienna. Also, a theater with multi-layered balcony seats appears in the postcard sketch drawn by a Swedish traveler to Venice in 1688. It means that about 50 years after the construction of the Teatro Farnese (Panel 03) in 1619, a prototype for the Baroque opera house (Baroque theater) had already been completed. Theaters of this type are also referred to as Italian theaters and spread with lightning speed throughout Europe with the activities of Italian families who were architects and at the same time professionals to preside over events. Then, from the 17th to 19th century, royal boxes with gorgeous decorations were built at the front of the multi-layered balcony seats in an Italian theater. This improvement emphasized the existence of the proscenium arch (the frame) even further. The proscenium arch, which is said to originate from the frame set up around the stage of Teatro Farnese, made progress during this era.
Baroque theaters developed with Italian theater architects undertaking the design of theaters as specialists in different regions in Europe, and many theaters were built, including Margravial Opera House in Germany and Drottningholm Palace Theatre in Sweden. At the same time, because the theater was open to general audiences, the expansion of space for audience seats progressed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in pursuit of profitability, while maintaining the structure of multi-layered balcony seats. Architectural masterpieces, such as Teatro alla Scala, National Theatre Munich, and Vienna State Opera, were built in the process.
Text by SHIMIZU Hiroyuki
01 The Phoenix Theatre
02 Theatre at La Scala
03 Margravial Opera House
04 Drottningholm Palace Theatre
05 Bavarian State Opera
06 Vienna State Opera