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Association Française pour le Rayonnement du Théâtre du Château de Drottningholm

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Drottningholms Slottsteater history 03/2009

Drottningholm Palace - engraving of Erik Dahlberg 1694 (Collection Académie Desprez - Fonds Gilbert Blin)A palace has existed at Drottingholm since the XVIth century when King Johan III built a suitable residence for his wife, Katerina Jagellonika, but fire destroyed this building in 1661. The location of Drottningholm or Queen’s Island was popular with the Court and provided a perfect residence within close proximity to the Capital. Furthermore, following the war torn years of the first half of the XVIIth century Sweden had become a powerful force within Europe. The Queen Dowager immediately commissioned new palace and work began in 1662. The style was to emphasise the key position of influence that Sweden now had and remains one of the finest examples of the Baroque period of the later half of the XVIIth century. It was created by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and subsequently by his son The Younger who were both heavily influenced by the French style of the period.

The palace remained a popular retreat well into the XVIIIth century, but it was the influence of a mother and her son that brought Drottningholm in to the centre of cultural life and made it the focal point of art and science in Sweden.

In 1744, Louise-Ulrique of Prussia married the Swedish heir apparent Adolphe-Frédéric and was given the palace as a wedding present. The future Queen set about transforming the royal residence with the creation of a superb library, the designing of a French formal garden and most famously the building of the Drottningholm Court Theatre.

The theatre was designed by Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz and opened in 1766. Like the palace itself, it was built upon the ruins of a previous building that was also destroyed by fire. The building materials were basic but yet created the illusion of splendour and depth thus echoing the stage designs of the time. Here again the French Rocaille style of the period was used. Further additions were made in 1791 by Louis-Jean Desprez, which included the royal apartments and a Salon pour les festins et les ballets, a foyer area called today the Déjeuner Salon.

The stage was fully equipped with machinery and facilities that would have been considered state of the art at the time. The machinery still remains in working order today and is a testimony to the craftsmanship involved. The stage mechanisms include trap doors, cloud cars and wind and thunder machines. Fifteen of the original sets from this era remain intact. These sets and twenty other incomplete ones have been copied and are used in the opera productions today.

Gustave III - Engraving of A.V. Berndes after C.F. von Brenda (Collection Académie Desprez - Fonds Gilbert Blin)The influence of Queen Louise-Ulrique and that of her son, Gustave III was immeasurable. The Queen surrounded herself with the leading intellectuals of the day including Linnaeus and as well as being a patron of the arts Louise was known to have taken part in amateur productions at the Palace. This passion for enlightenment was passed to Gustave who ascended the Swedish Throne in 1771. He took that passion further and travelled extensively in the pursuit of his love for theatre and music. His travels took him to France where he saw and even participated in productions. Incidentally, it was whilst in Paris that he received the news that he had become King. These cultural ties were further strengthened when a French company of actors, under the leadership of Monvel, actor of the Comédie-Française, performed at Drottningholm for the King.

This growth in culture and royal patronage was taking place throughout the whole of Europe, and Sweden, under the guidance of Gustave was not going to be excluded from this. In addition to French and Swedish drama, the works of Gluck, Grétry and Piccini were all performed at Drottningholm. This was a highpoint; a golden age of culture before Europe was once again plunged into revolution and war. In 1792 King Gustave was assassinated in a plot hatched by hostile nobles and with his death the Theatre at Drottningholm gradually fell into disuse.

For over a century the theatre remained undiscovered and used mainly as a storeroom. It was not until 1922 that the Theatre reopened under the guidance of the historian Agne Beijer. Some adaptations were made to accommodate the XXth century, such as electricity, but largely the theatre and its contents remained intact and faithful to the original style and requirements of the XVIIIth century and with this rediscovery came the formation of  a Swedish theatre museum.

Productions and concert performances of period pieces have been given in an annual season every summer and even continued unbroken through the darkest years of the Second World War. These artistic endeavours were sustained and nurtured by The Association of the Friends of Drottningholm, formed in 1935 and subsequently by a Foundation dedicated to the spirit and survival of the Theatre. This form of management worked successfully in developing a strong repertoire of XVIIIth century operas with a loyal audience. However, a more high profile change of style in the 1970’s set about positively exploiting the merits and qualities of this unique theatre.

In 1980, the international conductor, Arnold Östman was appointed Art Director of Drottningholm. Supported by the historical identity of the Theatre and sustainded by his own artistic energy, Östman used the recording medium to make the productions, particularly of Mozart, more accessible to new audiences throughout the world; a perfect example of XXth century technology working in harmony with XVIIIth century artistry. Soprano Elisabeth Söderström was commissioned Artistic Director between 1993 and 1996, focusing on the lesser known composers contemporary with Mozart, as Martín y Soler and Philidor. 1997-2006 Per-Erik Öhrn, singer, actor, director and professor, has been creating the Theatre’s festival programme, introducing early music by Rossi and Peri, as well as commissioning new Swedish opera. The Theatre has also, during this last decade, again achieved international fame with productions of Handel and Rameau operas.

Some of the Theatre's productions are now commercially available on video or DVD and audio recordings.


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