Josef Svoboda was a great “magician of theatre space”. He fundamentally influenced the theatre of his age with his approach to scenography and his technical innovations. The mark he made is still apparent to this day.
Josef Svoboda was born in the town of Čáslav on May 5, 1920. He was trained as a cabinet-maker and later studied at the Prague School of Interior Design. He began his theatre career with an amateur company at the Smetana Museum during the Second World War. After the war, he joined the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. During this time, he started work for the Grand Opera of the 5th of May, a company striving for innovative operatic staging techniques. In 1948, he started working for the National Theatre, co-founding the famous era of this theatre house with the directors Otomar Krejča, Alfréd Radok, Miroslav Macháček and Jaromír Pleskot. He also collaborated on outstanding opera productions, mostly with the directors Bohumil Hrdlička and Václav Kašlík. In 1950, Svoboda became its artistic and technological manager; in 1970–79 he served as chief scenographer. The start of the 1960s saw the launch of Svoboda’s dazzling international career. His name was brought to wider attention by Laterna Magika, a theatre production that playfully combined the live presence of actors with film, which Svoboda prepared with the director Alfréd Radok for EXPO 58 in Brussels. International collaborations soon followed. Throughout his life, he worked with numerous leading directors, conductors and choreographers such as Laurence Olivier, John Dexter, Leonard Bernstein and Roland Petit.