One of the Most Unique Venues for Live Opera and Ballet Caught in the Crossfire of Two Cities

The revolving auditorium in Český Krumlov (source: otacivehlediste.cz)

The open-air revolving auditorium in South Bohemia is arguably the most unusual place to enjoy opera and ballet. The colosseum-like structure, which turns to reveal sets deftly built while spectators are turned the other away, is located in a royal garden overlooking the medieval town of Český Krumlov. The modern structure of the theater stands up against a Baroque summer residence called the Bellaria, a historic building which serves as both the backstage and the orchestra pit during performances. The theater, which belongs to the city of České Budějovice, but is built in the town of Český Krumlov, has drawn criticism over the years from historic conservationists. The coronavirus pandemic has proven a good opportunity to cancel the summer season and make some major changes.

The Czech city of České Budějovice, which owns the revolving auditorium, will spend this summer renovating its outdoors theatrical venue situated in the nearby Český Krumlov, a medieval town which is both a UNESCO site and a popular tourist destination. The open-air revolving theater will not only be renovated but also entirely removed from the royal garden in which it stood until now, a task which will cost some 20 to 24 million Czech crowns (741 700 – 890 000 Euros.) At the same time, historic conservationists will begin to renovate the summer residence, or Bellaria, next to the auditorium. The renovation of the summer residence will continue until the year 2022 and will cost some 50 million Czech crowns (1 850 000 Euros.) The decision about the exact new location of the revolving theater  is yet to be determined by the Ministry of Culture.  

The town of České Budějovice has a contract with the National Heritage Institute allowing the city to rent the section of the royal garden on which the auditorium stands. The contract expires at the end of this year. The new contract, which is still under negotiation, would extend the city’s rental until the end of 2023. The České Budějovice leadership has raised issues with the fact that the actual cost of the rental for the coming years is not explicitly stated in the new contract. “The new contract only includes a formula according to which the rental cost should be calculated in the coming years. We need the contract to include a concrete figure,” said mayor deputy Juraj Thoma.

The South Bohemian Theater in České Budějovice, which is in charge of the artistic operations of the revolving theater, canceled this year’s summer season because of the uncertain situation surrounding the coronavirus. The town subsequently announced that it will use this extra time to renovate. “The renovation is utterly necessary as it will ensure the functionality of the theater until the end of the extended contract with the National Heritage Institute,” said Thoma. The renovation will have three phases and will include repairs to the outer structure of the theater and the electronic system, with the exception of the propulsion engines, which were repaired the year before last.

The Baroque summer residence (or Bellaria) in Český Krumlov (source: cs.wikipedia.org, photo by Wolfgang Sauber)

The historic conservationists met with representatives of the town of České Budějovice and the South Bohemian Theater to discuss the fact that the renovation of the nearby summer residence is to begin parallel with the renovation of the revolving theater. “It will mean two large construction sites running in parallel, with only one access road and almost no handling area except for four-meter-wide packed-gravel paths. We ask the city of České Budějovice to present their construction plan,” said the castle manager of Český Krumlov, Pavel Slavko, who is the originator of the complaints against the theater’s location, insisting that the garden and Bellaria be taken off of the UNESCO list should the auditorium remain on site. The renovation of the Bellaria summer residence, added the castle manager, will begin on July 1st and should be finished in 2022.

The council of Český Krumlov wrote an open letter to the city of České Budějovice disparaging the renovation of the revolving theater. Their meeting with the city representatives only confirmed their fears. “The meeting fulfilled its purpose. We needed to know what the city of České Budějovice had in mind in terms of the renovation of the theater. It turns out that the renovation will be as far-reaching as we imagined, with difficult technological aspects. The renovation of the summer residence will be even more complicated,” said the mayor of Český Krumlov, Dalibor Carda. 

The revolving theater in Český Krumlov brings in considerable revenue for the South Bohemian Theater – four fifths of the theater’s total annual revenue, to be exact, which was some 55 million crowns (2 million Euros) last year. In the summer of 2019, 58 863 spectators visited the theater, and ticket sales made 43,3 million CZK.

The revolving theater in Český Krumlov was the first of its kind, completed in 1958. Since its opening, some 2.4 million audience members graced its cascading auditorium. It is the only revolving auditorium in the world to present opera and ballet.

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