Laterna Magika and The National Theatre of Prague announced that renowned designer Josef Svoboda, known for creating new visual dimensions for productions in 20th-century European theatre, died April 8, leaving behind hundreds of theatrical credits.
The New York Times reported the cause of death as cancer. He was 81. Mr. Svoboda's use of film projections on moving screens challenged audiences to view theatre and design in a new way.
On Broadway, his design for Tom Stoppard's Jumpers was seen in 1974.
As a young man, Mr. Svoboda apprenticed as a cabinet-maker. Following a masters course, he enrolled in the Central School of Housing Industry in Prague, but was drawn to the theatre. Shortly after World War II he took scenography courses at the Prague Conservatory and studied architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague. A longtime goal to build a new theatre building in Prague never materialized.
"One of the predominant characteristics of Josef Svoboda was his consistent confrontation of theory and practice," according to a statement by Laterna Magika, suggesting he was a visionary dreamer who was able to experiment. In 1945, during his studies he participated in the founding of the Fifth of May Theatre. He became the theatre's chief stage designer, as well as collaborating with the Theatre of Satire and the Studio of the National Theatre. In 1948, he joined the staff of the National Theatre, initially as stage designer and, as of 1951, as the head of its artistic and technical operations. Until 1992, he remained loyal to the National Theatre, when he left to become the managing director of the independent Lantern Magic Theatre, where he had also served as artistic director since 1973.
In the Fifth of May Theatre he met one of his principal directors Alfred Radok.
"His collaboration with director Alfred Radok refined his sense of the directors concept of scenography and of the functional incorporation of the stage design into the context of the other components of a theatre production," according to Laterna Magika. "Their common desire for discovery led them to a series of experimentations, the result of which was the founding of Lantern Magic, the creation of the polyekran (multiple screens), and other audiovisual forms. Svoboda's cooperation with opera director Václav Kaík inspired his love for music, which helped to introduce a number of excellent operatic works to theatres both at home and abroad."
He designed for opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan, Royal Opera House in London and Grand Opera on Paris.
Mr. Svoboda created stage designs for more than 700 theatre performances in his own country and abroad. During the second half of the 20th century, he collaborated with directors including John Dexter, Milos Forman, Giorgio Strehler, Laurence Olivier and others.
In London, his design credits included The Three Sisters, The Storm and The Idiot.