Monday, 21 July 2008

The rotating theatre

Regular readers of my blog will know my views of the need for UNESCO to protect the important historic buildings of Cesky Krumlov against the pressures of commercialism. I welcomed their call for an audit of historical buildings.

One of the conditions of World Heritage site listing was the removal of the rotating auditorium from its current site in the Castle Gardens next to the Bellarie Summerhouse, which was built in the rococo style in the mid 1700's. The summerhouse is a remarkable and beautiful building and the UNESCO argument is that it should be seen in its natural setting without the intrusion of a modern open-air theatre auditorium. As someone who has specialised in rococo gardens - I formally ran a heritage centre in Vauxhall, which was built on the site of Vauxhall Spring Gardens, the most famous of all rococo gardens - I am acutely aware of the rareness of such gems.

That said there are many fans for the auditorium in its current position. I would recommend that visitors to Cesky Krumlov make a point of experiencing the magic of a performance in the gardens, before we lose the auditorium from its current site. Throughout the summer there are operas and plays staged in the gardens and whilst the performers can be of varying quality the theatre works wonderfully in the setting. You sit on the raked seating under the stars (or rain if you are unlucky) and the performance takes place around you - in the gardens and on the terrace of the summer house. The 360-degree rotation of the auditorium allows this action to take place anywhere within sight of the audience and anywhere that suits the drama. We watched Dvorak's opera Rusalka and the scene moved from the court to the lake home of the water sprite heroine and back again easily with the turn of the auditorium.

If, as they must to meet UNESCO demands, the Cesky Krumlov authorities do move the auditorium, it is hard to see where it can go and have the same magic. I do think the auditorium is in the way of seeing the summerhouse properly in its setting, although sitting in the empty auditorium does give you a great view. I also think far more could be made of the summerhouse to enable visitors to appreciate it, for starters I would love to be able to look inside. But at the end of the day I do wonder whether some compromise might not be the best solution. When I was researching the Vauxhall pleasure gardens and their rococo structures, I became aware of the theatricality of the period - rococo is nothing if not artifice. The auditorium whilst not in keeping architecturally with its historic surroundings, undoubtedly is in terms of spirit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good news - the UNESCO are currently in the process of doing the audit and the revolving auditorium is very much on the agenda too. The residents group that engaged in getting the UNESCO involved in the strange goings on at Krumlov in the first place, is about to meet and discuss how they can help find the least bad solution to moving the auditorium. As usual, powerful lobby groups are pushing in one direction (totally unacceptable to the preservationists) and the town hall seems to be leaning their way. But the latest idea, supported by the South Bohemian theatre - who are actually running the revolving auditorium performances - is to move it to a natural hollow in the historic gardens at Kvitkuv Dvur, restoring the original gardens in the process and creating a Glyndebourne effect. Watch this space.


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