Andrea Breth

© Bernd Uhlig
Born in Rieden/Füssen on 31 October 1952. Grew up in Darmstadt. 1971-1973 studied literature in Heidelberg. Assistant director at Heidelberg Theatre, then she moved with manager Peter Stoltzenberg to Bremen, there she was assistant director under David Esrig and Christof Nel. First production: “The Enchanted Brothers” by Yevgeny Schwartz (1975). Other productions in Wiesbaden, Bochum, Hamburg and Berlin. After a flop with Lessing’s “Emilia Galotti” in 1981 at the Freie Volksbühne in Berlin, retreat to Zurich, work with student actors.

In 1983 manager Ulrich Brecht brought her to the Freiburg Theatre, where she celebrated an outstanding success with García Lorca’s “The House of Bernada Alba”. She was voted the director of the year in the critics’ survey by “Theater heute” for this. Her next stations were Bochum (1986-1989) and Vienna (1990 and 1992). From 1992 to 1997 artistic manager at the Berlin Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz. After arguments with the ensemble, she announced her departure and in 1999 moved to the Burgtheater in Vienna as in-house director.

Andrea Breth has won numerous awards, including the Fritz Kortner Prize in 1987 and the Nestroy Prize for “Best Director” in 2003. She is a member of the Academy of Performing Arts in Frankfurt am Main and of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin.

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Portrait: Andrea Breth

She is one of the major directorial figures of German-language theatre of the last twenty years – but her work has never mirrored the aesthetic economics and fashions of this period. Andrea Breth is a great, radical loner; she stubbornly resists the trends of the zeitgeist and the cultural scene. Even in her public comments (“I am old-fashioned to the core”) she has never shied away from taking up decidedly conservative positions: she emphasises theatre’s obligation to educate, resists the impositions of the “fun society” and an “excited event mentality”, continues to see the theatre as a “moral institute” and assigns it a function as a servant of literature and text – against all more recent trends to claim it as an autonomous medium. Her creed: “Theatre is memory, I am absolutely convinced of that.”

Her actual directorial career started with the triumph that celebrated her Freiburg production of García Lorca’s “The House of Bernada Alba” at the Berliner Theatertreffen in 1985. Via Bochum and Vienna she arrived at the Berlin Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, where she was artistic director from 1992 to 1997. And when this phase ultimately ended with fierce conflicts with parts of the ensemble, her great achievement remains undisputed: in the shadow of the “legend” Peter Stein, she had taken over the most important German theatre in a crisis and had been able to stabilise it for many years with her productions. The fact that at that time such a managerial position was taken by a woman undoubtedly had an exemplary character for the upcoming generation of younger female directors and theatre managers.

Andrea Breth’s directorial style is in the tradition of Fritz Kortner’s and Peter Stein’s poetic and psychological realism. She sees herself as an anthropologist, someone who looks into souls – but never just in a biographical-social sense, but much rather in a universal-human sense. She does not shy from the mythic and metaphysical dimension – for example, in 1990 she darkened Kleist’s comedy “The Broken Pitcher” in Vienna into a monumental tragedy about humanity, concerning the Fall and the banishment from Eden.

And she believes that “contemporary” theatre is also there to pose questions about spirituality and religion. “If you can no longer understand that man is in an alliance with God, then you have to leave the play alone,” she said about her work on Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” at Berlin’s Schaubühne (1998).

However obsessive such a design may sometimes appear, it never petrifies into a hypothesis on the stage: it is always about people, their dreams and desires, the shattering of these emotions. Her stories often darken into dramas of hopelessness: happiness is only a hope, not reality. Even when the director decided on Goethe’s early ending of “Stella” (1999) – a merry utopian ménage-a-trois – she produced a dark play where people retreated into pain and loneliness.

In spite of all respect for the director’s crafts and ability, critics have not wanted to follow some of her works: the hermetic seal of the emotional language, coupled with perfectionism, has brought some productions, especially those in the last few years at the Berlin Schaubühne, to the edge of petrification. This makes it all the more noticeable that in her current position as in-house director at Vienna's Burgtheater Breth has apparently discovered a new path for herself. More than in the past she is interested in texts by contemporary writers and she has also discovered a surprising lightness in her dealings with the classics.

She set Lessing’s “Emilia Galotti” (2002) in a modern mafia Italy; she produced the bourgeois tragedy, free from the burden of historic significance, as a play of nervous emotions between narcissistic love and deadly seriousness with a speed that is completely untypical for her.
The production was invited to the 2003 Theatertreffen. It was her seventh nomination for Berlin – that, too, illustrates the extraordinary standing of this director in German-language theatre.

Gerhard Jörder

Productions - A selection

  • Harold Pinter "The Caretaker"
    2014, Residenztheater, Munich
  • William Shakespeare "Hamlet"
    2013, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Prince Frederick of Homburg"
    2012, Salzburg Festival, Coproduction with Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Alban Berg "Lulu"
    2012, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin
  • Isaak Babel "Marija"
    2011, Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus
  • Alban Berg "Wozzeck"
    2011, Deutsche Oper Unter den Linden, Berlin
  • Scenes by Cami, Charms and Courteline "Zwischenfälle" (i.e. "Incidents")
    2011, Burgtheater (Akademietheater), Vienna
  • Bernard-Marie Koltès "Quai West"
    2010, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Heinrich von Kleist "The Broken Pitcher"
    2009, Salzlager, Kokerei Zollverein, Essen, Ruhrtriennale 2009
  • After Fjodor M. Dostojewski (dramatization by Andrea Breth) "Crime and Punishment"
    2008, Salzburg Festival
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing „Minna von Barnhelm“
    2006, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Anton Chekov „The Cherry Orchard“
    2005, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Albert Ostermaier "After the cliffs"
    2005, Burgtheater Wien
  • Tennessee Williams "Cat on a hot tin roof"
    2005, Burgtheater Wien
  • Friedrich Schiller “Don Carlos”
    2004, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Edward Albee “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?”
    2004, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing “Emilia Galotti”
    2002, Burgtheater Vienna, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Arthur Schnitzler “The Vast Domain”
    2002, Salzburg Festival
  • Albert Ostermaier “Last Call”
    Premiere 2002, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Friedrich Schiller “Maria Stuart”
    2001, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Heinrich von Kleist “Katherine of Heilbronn”
    2001, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Edward Bond “The Sea”
    2000, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Christoph Willibald Gluck “Orfeo ed Euridice”
    2000, Leipzig Opera
  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe “Stella”
    1999, Berlin Schaubühne
  • Anton Chekhov “Uncle Vanya”
    1998, Berlin Schaubühne, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Heinrich von Kleist “The Schroffenstein Family”
    1997, Berlin Schaubühne
  • Farid ad-Din Attar “The Conference of the Birds”
    1996, Berlin Schaubühne
  • Henrik Ibsen “Hedda Gabler”
    1993, Berlin Schaubühne, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Georg Kaiser “From Morn to Midnight”
    1993, Berlin Schaubühne
  • Alexander Vampilov “Last Summer in Chulimsk”
    1992, Berlin Schaubühne, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Maxim Gorki “Night Asylum”
    1992, Berlin Schaubühne
  • Sean O’Casey “The End of the Beginning”
    1992, Burgtheater Vienna, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Arthur Schnitzler “The Lonely Way”
    1991, Berlin Schaubühne
  • Heinrich von Kleist “The Broken Pitcher”
    1990, Burgtheater Vienna
  • Maxim Gorky “The Last Ones”
    1989, Schauspielhaus Bochum, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Edward Bond “Summer”
    1987, Schauspielhaus Bochum
  • Julien Green “South”
    1987, Schauspielhaus Bochum, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Federico García Lorca “The House of Bernarda Alba”
    1985, Städtische Bühnen Freiburg, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Gerlind Reinshagen “Valliant”
    premiere 1982, Schauspielhaus Bochum
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing “Emilia Galotti”
    1981, Freie Volksbühne Berlin