Political Control, Administrative Simplicity, or Economies of Scale? Four Cases of the Reunification of Nationalized Theatres in Russia, Germany, Austria, and France (1918–45)
In 1917–18, the new republican governments of Russia, Germany, and Austria nationalized their former court property. A monarchic-turned-national heritage of prestigious opera and dramatic theatres weighed heavily on national and regional budgets, prompting first attempts to create centralized forms of theatre governance. In a second wave of theatre reorganization in the mid-1930s, the Soviet government created ‘union theatres’ under a Committee for Arts Affairs; the German and Austrian theatres underwent the Nazi Gleichschaltung (1933–35 and 1938); and France, a ‘democratic outlier’, opted for nationalizing the Opéra and OpéraComique under the Réunion des théâtres lyriques nationaux. These conglomerates have so far been little studied as historically specific forms of theatre management, particularly from a comparative, trans-regime perspective. What balance can be struck between economic, political, and ‘artistic’ costs and benefits? How does ‘Baumol’s law’ of decreasing theatre profitability apply to these very different politico-economic systems, as well as to war economies? Dictatorships reveal an economic seduction power, while this essay argues for confirming a long-term ‘great European convergence’ of state-centred theatre management, internal structure, and accountability, both in peace and war. Here, the stated goals and shortterm contingencies yielded to trends originating from the logic of theatre production itself, and the compromises that the state, theatre professionals, and the public accepted in exchange for the capital of prestige. Alexander Golovlev (PhD, European University Institute in Florence, 2017) is a senior research fellow at the HSE Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at the University of Moscow. His recent publications include, for NTQ, ‘Theatre Policies of Soviet Stalinism and Italian Fascism Compared, 1920–1940s’ (2019), and ‘Balancing the Books and Staging Operas under Duress: Bolshoi Theatre Management, Wartime Economy, and State Sponsorship in 1941–1945’, Russian History XLVII, No. 4 (2020).