Czech stage designer Josef Svoboda died last week

Josef Svoboda, Foto: ČTK

"One of the greatest stage designers of the planet called 'Theatre'", "a magician of the theatre", "a real master, craftsman and artist of theatre" - those are just a few the tributes paid to the world-renowned Czech stage designer and architect Josef Svoboda, who passed away last week. Pavla Horakova has more.

Josef Svoboda,  photo CTK
For many theatre people, Josef Svoboda is the creator of modern stage design. He was an imaginative architect and artist, known above all for his use of modern lighting techniques. Svoboda was fascinated by light. Low-voltage footlights which he developed - commonly known as "Svoboda" footlights - are now used in theatres worldwide. Josef Svoboda created stage designs for more than 700 theatre productions both in this country and abroad. He was perhaps more appreciated abroad, particularly in France, than in his home country. Josef Svoboda received many awards and titles from foreign universities and institutions, including the French Legion of Honour.

Josef Svoboda was born on May 10th, 1920 in the town of Caslav in central Bohemia. After leaving secondary school, he became an apprentice cabinet-maker, though he was increasingly drawn to the theatre. Shortly after World War II, he studied theatre design at the Prague Conservatory and architecture at the city's Academy of Applied Arts. While he was a student Josef Svoboda participated in the founding of the Opera of the May 5 Theatre. He became the theatre's chief stage designer and also collaborated with the Theatre of Satire and the National Theatre. In 1948, he joined the staff of the National Theatre in Prague, initially as a stage designer and, from 1951, the head of artistic and technical operations. Svoboda was also the co-founder of the Laterna Magika or Magic Lantern Theatre, which first began as a performance representing Czechoslovakia at the world EXPO exhibition in Brussels in 1958. The production, which did not use words, but a combination of film projection and dance, sound, light and pantomime, later gave its name to the world famous theatre. In 1973, Laterna Magika became part of the National Theatre and Josef Svoboda was appointed artistic director. But all the time he remained loyal to the National Theatre, until 1992 when he became the managing director of Laterna Magika.

Josef Svoboda died on the 8th of April, at the age of 81. His colleagues and theatre enthusiasts accompanied him on his last journey on Monday.