Theatre Designer: Josef Svoboda (1920 – 2002)

2. Svoboda
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3. Sovoda
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4. Frau


5. Idomeneo
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6.  
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7.   Ariadne
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Josef Svoboda (1920 – 2002)
Sovobda
Josef Svoboda.

Date: ca. 1970
Photographer: unknown (reproduced from website Frodo.at)



2.   Design for Wagner's Tristan and Isolde by Josef Svoboda.  Production at the Grand Theatre, Geneva.

Date: 1978
Photographer: Unknown
This is a characteristic Svoboda design, using the horizontal lines of the steps to add drama to the placing of the key figures.


3.   Design for die Frau Ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss, produced at Covent Garden with design and production by Svoboda.

Date: 1967
Photographer: Unknown


4   Design for die Frau Ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss, produced at Covent Garden with design and production by Svoboda.

Date: 1967
Photographer: Unknown


5   Design for Idomeneo, Re di Creta, by Mozart produced at National Arts Centre Opera, Ontario with design and production by Svoboda.

Date: 1981
Photographer:


Design for Idomeneo, Re di Creta, by Mozart produced at National Arts Centre Opera, Ontario with design and production by Svoboda.

Date: 1981
Photographer: Unknown


Design for Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, produced at Covent Garden with design and production by Svoboda.

Date: 1981
Photographer: Unknown








Josef Svoboda

Josef Svoboda was a Czech artist and scenic designer who was associated with the Prague Quadrenniale Theatre Design events and the Prague National Theatre, with work that impacted throughout Europe in the post war years.

Born in Čáslav, Svoboda began his training as an architect at the Central School of Housing in Prague. At the end of World War II, he became interested in theatre and design. He began to study 'scenography' at the Prague Conservatory and architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts.

Svoboda became the principal designer at the Czech National Theatre in 1948 and held that position for more than 30 years.  His work was well known among the many young British designers working in the post war years, many of whom contribted to the Prague Quadrienial.

Svoboda is also responsible for introducing modern technologies and materials such as plastics, hydraulics and lasers into his designs. In 1967, Svoboda created one of his best known special effects, a three-dimensional pillar of light. This was created by the use of an aerosol mixture which revealed low-voltage luminaries.


Scenography: The origins of stage design through architecture.

The term 'scenography' includes all of the elements that contribute to establishing an atmosphere and mood for a theatrical presentation: lighting, sound, set and costume design.   'Scenography' has evolved from historical roots in classical antiquity and connections to the architects of the Renaissance era largely due to the theatrical activity in Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. In that sense, it evp;ved from the works of the Binienna family and othe theatre architextx of the baroque period.  In that period theatres might have three semi-permanent settings; Scena satirica, Scena tragica and Scena comica.

The Prague Quadrienial

Much of the awareness of scenography as an art form is due to the Prague Quadrenial, an exhibition of scenography and theatre architecture. The Quadrienial was established in 1967 and takes place every four years.  In that city aesthetics and design have always been considered important aspects of everyday life and theatre.

Even throughout the long period of Soviet domination, the theatre persisted (although sometimes subversively), and 'scenography' continued to be an integral part of it. In some ways, because all of this artistic activity was taking place effectively behind the Iron Curtain, theatre production continued to flourish, shielded as it was from the  rest of the world where it had become perhaps somewhat less relevant.

Since its inception, the Prague Quadrennial has evolved into a truly international forum for scenography. The best and most cutting-edge in stage design and theatre architecture is shown in an astounding selection of drawings, models and photographs, and there are a number of conferences and seminars given by leading world-figures in scenography.  The event refkects the diversity of approach to theatre, with, for axample, a graffiti-inspired design from contemporary Britain can be seen alongside Japanese minimalism and Brazilian post modernism.

Thus, it is no accident that scenography first attained full legitimacy in the former Czechoslovakia. The Bauhaus Movement in architecture and design and German Expressionism in painting and the theatre are both important artistic and intellectual antecedents to modern scenography. They established a design sensibility and esthetic that took root in Central and Eastern Europe in the period between the two world wars. After 1945, eastern European artists, designers (and scenographers) seemed to be more concerned with a simpler kind of design that sought to find a visual metaphor, distill the image and evoke a mood.

Josef Svoboda: godfather of modern scenography

It was in this climate that Josef Svoboda (1920-2002) became known internationally as the godfather of modern scenography.
Svoboda gave numerous conferences and seminars at prestigious European and North American universities and designed extensively for theatres around the world. In Canada, he gave workshops in scenography at both Dalhousie University in Halifax and the Banff Centre for the Arts. The Queen of Spades (1976), Ariadne auf Naxos (1977) and Idomeneo (1981) for the NAC Opera all originated during this period of international activity..

[Text largely based on a paper by Michael Eagan, Rank Strand Archives and the publication Faszination der Bühne, Barocke Bühnentecknik in Europa.]