The Mystery of Theatre Space. Lectures on Scenography
by J. Svoboda
Translated from Italian by A.Tchasovnikova.
GITIS Publ. House: Moscow, Russia 1999.
152 pp., illus.
ISBN 5-7196-0294-1
Reviewed by E.V. Sintzov,
Russia. E-mail:

The book by J. Svoboda is a cycle of lectures on scenography, delivered in Milan in 1986. The book "The Mystery of Theatre Space" appeared (based on these lectures appeared later). In the Russian edition, however, the original cycle of lectures has been published under this title. Even in such form, they have a striking effect. J.Svoboda is a great scenographer of twentieth century, who worked in the most famous world's opera and drama theatres. His creative experience is invaluable for the specialists, and his lectures provide great assistance for their work. The book under review is a series of separate articles, each of them being devoted to a certain scenographic method, used in one performance or another: tetralogy "The Ring of Nibelung" (London, Geneva); "The Threepenny Opera" by B. Brecht (Zurich); "Tristan and Isolda" (Byreuth); "The Troubadour" (Berlin) and others. The full list of Svoboda's works is obviously far greater than that since he was able sometimes to stage three plays in a month, so much he was In demand by the theatre world. And there were a serious reasons for that. Witty, innovative and at the same time not too expensive scenario could be used by practically any theatre. In his book J. Svoboda tells about not only the creation of "Laterna Magica", but also concerns the application of projection, lighting, kinetic, acoustic and multimedia technique. As a true professional, he never neglects the so-called "trifles" -everything is considered at perfect level.

The combination of quite different approaches is the most striking feature of his works: the utmost realistic and pragmatic consideration of the problems connected with performance processing, and "flight of fancy", from the other side. Both approaches do not contradict but supplement each other. J. Svoboda, as a pragmatic manager, takes into account everything: from the sources of financial donations to the scale of producer's intention. As an artist, he develops collaboration with the author of the play, producer, actors, even technicians and stage workers. In result, he almost always achieves fundamentally new arrangement of the performance, formed by hundreds and thousands of elements, precisely being focused on the scenographer's personality. The acquaintance with the book leads to the conclusion concerning the main source of Svoboda's professional success: that is, his thinking process shows utmost plasticity allowing to adjust for scenographic purposes the whole polymorphic space of such synthetic art as a theatre. His lectures clearly demonstrate this way of thinking. They lack any strict logic conceptual pivot, as might be expected from the "cycle of lectures". Instead, they are constructed by a specific "rhisome principle", as a flexible vein set, covering a number of topics: producer's thinking, actor's skill, the facilities of a certain theatre, playwright's intention, etc. Just this principle of plastic accretion and simultaneous plastic creation is suggested by the book at almost subconscious level. But most brightly it is represented in the last chapter - a dream-like project of new type theatre. This theatre should be capable of infinite plasticity of its spaces, both internal and external ones (the latter relates to the architectural medium of the city). Despite the grandiose novelty of this project, it seems that there is nothing impossible for J. Svoboda, and such theatre could appear in the nearest decades of twenty first century.