Drottningholm: Palace, Garden and Theatre? It’s history!

One of my favorite European cities is Stockholm.

The reason: Drottninghom Palace Complex.

It was summer of 2016 – conference season for academics like me. The International Federation for Theatre Research awarded the hosting of the federation’s annual conference to Stockholm University on the occasion of the 250th year anniversary of the complex’s theatre.

As Stockholm celebrated the 250th birthday of the Drottningholms Slottsteater (the Drottningholm Palace Theater,) IFTR 2016 focused on critical perspectives on theatre history. With this reason, the conference’s theme was “Presenting the Theatrical Past: Interplays of Artefacts, Discourses and Practices.” Side-by-side this wonderful piece of architectural artefact, IFTR 2016 addressed questions concerning society’s relationship to theatre history.

Generally, the “theatre of the past” is accessible to us via historical objects, theoretical discourses and archive materials. But we can also experience it through performance practices that keep traditions alive or engage in re-enactments of theatre events and representations. Significantly, the conference organizers held one of its important keynotes at the Drottningholms Slottsteater (the Drottningholm Palace Theater) where theatre historian David Wiles (University of Exeter) whose keynote took place inside the Drottningholm theatre. Wiles addressed the topic of ‘presenting the past’ in relation to the mythical goal of historical authenticity. He asked: What is the value of this space as a kind of laboratory to understand the theatre and opera of the 18th century?

I remember him addressing in the keynote: the presence of the Drottningholms Slottsteater is so powerful that work on the stage always feels awkward unless it engages with the unique environment, but in architectural terms the theatre is a field of contradiction. To work on the stage requires engagement with historical otherness, and with the principle that culture is always fluid, shifting and contested.

Me, posing inside the palace! (Thanks to Mele for taking this photo!)
For sure, that image is a significant member of the Royal Family – I just did not have a chance to get his name (Photo: SAPT)
The Archangel Michael defeating satan! One of the fabulous sculptures displayed all over the complex! (Photo: SAPT)
A view from inside the palace! Amazing, huh? (Photo: SAPT)
Enter the maze garden! (Photo: SAPT)
The garden and the palace (Photo: SAPT)
Drottningholms Slottsteater (the Drottningholm Palace Theater) (Photo: SAPT)
Inside the Court Theatre (Photo: SAPT)
The 250-year old stage machinery is still functional! (Photo: SAPT)
The stage machinery below the stage! (Photo: SAPT)

Interesting, the keynote was accompanied by performances! Actually, the theatre, the stage, the auditorium performed. This is the reason why I thought Wiles was merely mediating the real keynote presenter – translating its language into academic vocabularies. But the actual keynote was the stage or the theatre itself (hmmmm, let the stage speaks for itself!).

Anyhow, it was my first time to see a baroque / romantic stage mechanism – I would not deny I was so fascinated that I had to stand to see clearly what was happening on the stage via the ingenious machineries from 250 years ago.

According to a travel webstite (Visit Stockholm), Drottningholm Palace is Sweden’s best-preserved royal palace constructed in the seventeenth century and the permanent residence of the royal family. I believe my entries above are meritorious enough to agree with this proposition. Nonetheless, if this piece of fantastic architectural wonder is not as fabulous as it seems, I do not think UNESCO would even consider it as World Heritage Site possessing outstanding universal values.

Officially titled the Royal Domain of Drottninghom on the UNESCO list, the complex was constructed according to a French prototype by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Elder, by commission of Queen Hedvig Eleonora. Visit Stockhom explains that many royal personages have left their mark on the palace since then. The palace features magnificent salons from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a beautiful park, a unique palace theater and a Chinese Pavilion. The imposing Baroque garden was laid out beginning in 1681 according to drawings by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger. The palace and the park are mostly open to visitors year round.

Today, Drottningholms Slottsteater is the best preserved eighteenth-century theater in Europe and the only one in the world that still uses the original stage machinery on a regular basis.

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