The Estates Theatre, Prague - Albatros, Scale 1:150, £9.95 - Not available

The Estates Theatre was opened in 1783 as the Nostic Theatre, being named after Count Nostic who built it. It began life as the Prague home of Italian opera. At the time Mozart was at the height of his powers and was especially popular in Prague. In 1787, The Marriage of Figaro was given a rapturous reception there, despite having closed the year before in Vienna after only 9 performances. Rich local sponsors then commissioned Mozart to write a new opera to be staged in Prague. The result was Don Giovanni, which had its premiere in 1787 under Mozart's baton at the Nostic Theatre. It is said that he did not complete the overture until the night of the first performance, handing the music out to the unrehearsed orchestra with the ink barely dry. Nevertheless, the audience loved it. In 1807, the theatre underwent a change of direction and concentrated on German opera. In 1813, Carl Maria von Weber became the musical director for a four year spell. By the late nineteenth century, most productions were being performed in Czech and the name was changed to the Tyl Theatre after the dramatist, J.K. Tyl, whose song "Where is my home?" was first played here and was later adopted as the Czech National Anthem. More recently, the film director, Milos Forman, used the building as a location when filming the Academy-Award winning "Amadeus". Later, the theatre was subject to extensive renovation and is now one of the finest neo-Classical buildings in Prague.

The Model.

Designed by Richard Vyškovský, whose other model credits include the Tatra Round the World Lorry, the Dakar Rally Vehicles and Prague Castle, the kit has a very substantial level of detail with a difficulty class of 2 (out of 3). Copious instructions in three languages (English, German and Czech) are provided together with comprehensive exploded diagrams. I did find these latter a trifle complicated to use at times, mainly because there are so many part numbers listed. I found it easier, when trying to find the location of the part, rather than look for that number in the diagram, to guess where I thought it would be and then to check the part on the diagram at that location. This method worked all right. The English instructions in general were good although the language was sometimes a little strange, but perfectly understandable. Very usefully, the instructions also contained a complete list of the parts, with quantity and the page(s) on which they were to be found.
Initial work on the kit consisted of the preparation of the walls - a bit like painting the lounge! Into each of the outside walls had to be placed the numerous recessed windows, together with window frames and doors. Although well on with construction, for some time I found all I had to show for my labours was a heap of walls. The card itself is quite thick, as is usually the case with Albatros, and after a time I gave up my usual practice of scoring with a small screwdriver and used instead the scalpel blade. By resting the blade on the line to be scored and drawing the knife a couple of times over the part, letting the weight of the knife make the cut, I obtained a clean fold in the card. Once the walls were prepared, they were stuck together and at last the theatre began to come alive and look like architecture. The care with which the model was designed was evident in the internal transverse spars which strengthen the construction and prevent the walls from bowing. Once the shell of the building was completed, the next stage was to construct the outside balconies which run virtually the length of the theatre. After this came the moment I had been dreading - putting on the roof. Made up of several pieces, the roof is applied to the walls in one piece and the instructions advise that the glueing should be done piecemeal. This actually worked quite well and the edges were finished off with ledges which coincidentally covered the join between roof and wall. The balcony supports and columns were applied and the whole was finished off with the two red and white banners hanging from the front of the theatre. Some shrubs were also provided for optionally adorning the balconies but I left these out. On a point of detail, I did miss once or twice cutting away the scrap card, most notably on the underside of the upper balconies to reveal the supporting column capitals.
This is the first time I have built one of the theatre kits and I was impressed by the intricacy of the architecture. The raised theatre roperoom roof dominates the building with the foyer, auditorium and arched entrance at one end and the backstage and administrative offices at the other. The baroque decoration echoes the classical Greek style in an edifice which is both attractive and functional. The kit is certainly complicated - more so than the difficulty grade allows - and the whole must have taken me about 100 hours to complete.

Christopher Cooke


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