Following prevailing practice in German-speaking Europe, the major theatres in Vienna and in most of the provincial capitals are run as repertory theatres. They employ a relatively stable ensemble of actors and offer a repertory of own productions, usually on a rotating schedule with daily changing performances. Guest performances and co-productions are occasionally offered, but tend to remain the exception because of the complex organisational structures of the big theatres. Austria’s major repertory theatres are the Burgtheater, the Vienna State Opera, the Volkstheater and the Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna, as well as stages in the provincial capitals, including the Bühnen Graz , Landestheater Linz and the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck.
Vienna’s leading drama and opera stages, the Burgtheater and the Vienna State Opera, were historically court theatres which came into the possession of the newly-founded Republic in 1919, hence the designation Bundestheater (“Federal Theatres”). The functions and operations of the Bundestheater organisation are governed by federal law . The Bundestheater holding company, which reports to the competent government ministry, acts as an umbrella for its subsidiary organisations: the Burgtheater, State Opera and Volksoper (the latter opera house was integrated into the Bundestheater organisation in 1955) and the theatre service company ART for ART . With about 2,500 staff and an annual budget of more than €253m, the Bundestheater holding company describes itself as “the biggest theatre company worldwide” .
The venues of the Burgtheater Burgtheater are the main building on Vienna's Ringstrasse, built in 1888 on the model of Dresden's Semperoper, the Akademietheater Akademietheater since 1922 and currently the Kasino am Scharzenbergplatz Kasino am Schwarzenbergplatz. The Burgtheater is the most important drama stage in the country and the largest spoken theater in Europe. In over 800 550 performances in the various venues, the Burgtheater records approximately 240,000 theater visits in the 2019/20 season approximately 390,000 theater visits per year.
During the directorship of Claus Peymann (1986-99), the Burgtheater, with premieres by Austrian authors such as Thomas Bernhard, Peter Turrini, and Elfriede Jelinek, became the site of an intense public debate about Austria's cultural and political identity, as well as its history in the 20th century. To this day, the Burgtheater is the first address for directors and actors throughout the German-speaking world and beyond. The director Martin Kušej leads the house from the season 2019/20since 2019. In 2022, the management of the house was advertised for another five-year functional period from 2024.
The Vienna State Opera
"The Vienna State Opera is an eminent opera and ballet venue and widely regarded as one of the leading opera stages worldwide; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire.” The State Opera building was completed in 1869 as part of the development of Vienna’s Ringstrasse boulevard. Outstanding conductors, including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan and Lorin Maazel, have led performances at the Vienna State Opera. Its orchestra is recruited from among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic. The Vienna State Opera also hosts the annual Vienna Opera Ball. Austrian music manager Bogdan Roščić has led the State Opera since 2020, and his contract was extended in 2022 until 2030. .
Located on Währinger Gürtel in Vienna’s 9th district, the Volksoper has served as a music theatre since 1903. From 1945 to 1955 it was used as a replacement location for Vienna State Opera performances. It was subsequently integrated into the Bundestheater organisation and offers a programme of opera, operetta and musicals . Robert Meyer, a former member of the Burgtheater ensemble, has held the position of director since 2007. The Volksoper is Vienna’s only stage that focuses on traditional operetta , working to modernise the genre and re-establish its popular appeal. Dutch opera director Lotte des Beer has led the house since the 2022/23 season.
The Vienna State Ballet has been managed jointly by Staatsoper and Volksoper since 2005 .
Other major theatres in Vienna
In addition to the stages under the Bundestheater umbrella, Vienna has several other major theatres which were historically founded and managed by private owners or civic associations as a deliberate counterpoint to the culture of the court and the aristocracy
An association of Viennese citizens including playwright Ludwig Anzengruber founded the “Deutsches Volkstheater” in 1889 as a stage for the German-speaking middle classes of Vienna, independent of and indeed in deliberate opposition to the court theatres . Architects Fellner & Helmer designed the building on the edge of the city centre, including many technical features that were brand new at the time. Among other things, the Volkstheater was one of the first stages with electric lighting, and was used as a blueprint for many other theatres in continental Europe, including the Deutsches Schauspielhausin Hamburg .
In 1988, Emmy Werner was the first woman to become director of one of Vienna’s major stages. During more than 17 years in office as Volkstheater director, she developed distinctive programmes based on dramas featuring “strong women” and regular premieres of plays by contemporary Austrian writers, among them Gert Jonke and others. Her successor Michael Schottenberg added broadly popular formats to the programme, but also worked to confront the difficult historical issues of Austria’s past under Nazi rule on the stage . The Volkstheater also runs a programme of performances at 19 venues outside the city centre (“Volkstheater in den Bezirken”). It is the only major Viennese stage to offer a touring programme of this kind, which covers 14 of Vienna’s 23 districts . Kay Voges has been artistic director of the Volkstheater since the 2020/21 season
In recent years, the “Hundsturm” theatre in Vienna’s 5th district has been added as a permanent second venue, operating under the name Volx/Margarethen.
Theater in der Josefstadt
The Theater in der Josefstadt was founded in 1788, making it the oldest theatre in Vienna that is still operating today . The present building dates back to 1822. In 1924, Max Reinhardt had the house remodelled in the sumptuous style of Venetian theatres. The Kammerspiele serves as the theatre’s second venue in Vienna city centre .
With about 400 performances per season, the Josefstadt attracts an audience of more 240,000. Its operating income from ticket sales and sponsorship covers 37.9 of expenditure, a share that is higher than at most other major spoken theatre institutions in Austria. A mainstay of Josefstadt’s operational success is its stock of regular patrons, many of them holding subscriptions for decades. Highly popular actors, including Otto Schenk and Helmuth Lohner, both of whom also served as directors of the theatre, helped to build the exceptional loyalty of the Josefstadt audience. Josefstadt’s current director Herbert Föttinger has successfully broadened the house’s programme with new plays and formats.
Theater der Jugend
With nearly 47,000 subscribers and ticket sales of about 300,000 per year, Theater der Jugend is one of Europe’s largest theatre organisations for children and young people. Its productions are put on at two venues, the Renaissance-Theater near Mariahilfer Strasse and the centrally located Theater im Zentrum. Subscriptions also include productions staged by other Viennese theatres , as well as a broad range of educational offerings. Under its director Thomas Birkmeir (since 2002), Theater der Jugend is bringing a growing list of world and national premieres to its young audiences.
Vereinigte Bühnen Wien
Vereinigte Bühnen Wien (VBW) is a subsidiary of Wien Holding GmbH, which is owned by the City of Vienna. Founded as a company in 1987, VBW stages productions of musicals at the Raimundtheater, a former operetta theatre in Vienna’s 6th district dating back to 1893, and at the centrally located Ronacher, which was originally founded in 1888 as Etablissement Ronacher and redeveloped at a cost of €34.1m in 2008. Until 2005, musicals were also performed at the Theater an der Wien near the Secession building.
Successful VBW productions have gone on international tours after running for several years in Vienna, especially in the 1990s with performances in Europe, Asia and North America. The most successful productions included Elisabeth, which premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1992, and Dance of the Vampires, first staged at the Raimundtheater in 1997.
The Theater an der Wien, which dates back to 1801, shifted its focus to opera in 2006. Opera director Stephan Herheim has been artistic director of the Theater an der Wien since 2022.
The Theater an der Wien has been using the Kammeroper as a second venue since 2012.
Outside Vienna, most performances are offered by repertory theatres in the provincial capitals covering both spoken and music theatre genres.
The city of Graz, capital of the province of Styria, is home to a 1,200-seat opera house, second only to the Vienna State Opera in size, which dates back to 1899, the Schauspielhaus theatre in the city centre, and the Next Liberty theatre for young audiences. Together, the three institutions of the Bühnen Graz offer about 140 music and 300 drama performances, as well as 150 performances for young people every year, most of them in-house productions created by the resident companies.
The Landestheater Linz in Upper Austria has consolidated its artistic and budgetary position in recent years following the 2013 completion of a new auditorium for music theatre , whose construction had been delayed for several years. The Landestheater regularly earns recognition beyond the confines of the region with its performances of spoken drama and ballet, as well as its programmes for young audiences.
The Tiroler Landestheater Innsbruck traces its history back to 1629, when a first "Comediehaus" based on Italian models was built near its current location. In the Großes Haus, the Kammerspiele and other venues including the Haus der Musik, which opened in 2018, the Tiroler Landestheater offered approximately 280 performances a year in musical theater, drama, ballet and children's and youth theater in the 2019/20 season.
The Landestheater Salzburg serves as one of the venues of the summer Salzburg Festival, in addition to offering about 200 performances during the regular theatre season. The multi-genre theatre puts on drama and music theatre productions as well as formats for young audiences. Moreover, the Landestheater stages one production per season at the Grosses Festspielhaus of the Salzburg Festival and at the Mozart House .
The Stadttheater Klagenfurt in Carinthia offers about 220 performances per year – mainly drama and music, as well as children’s and youth events.
Other regional stages with resident theatre companies include the Vorarlberger Landestheater Bregenz and, since 2004, the Landestheater Niederösterreich in Sankt Pölten, respectively located in Austria’s westernmost and easternmost provinces, Vorarlberg and Lower Austria. The town of Baden near Vienna is home to the operetta stage Bühne Baden.