In the lush garden surrounding the Ulriksdal Palace just outside of Stockholm shines a bright yellow building, the Confidencen. Today once more hosting the Ulriksdal palace theatre, the building has a rich and varied history dating from the 17th century. Being Sweden’s oldest theatre with a season of theatre, ballet, concerts and opera, the Confidencen stands as a living monument of the origins of Swedish theatre history.
The building that later was to become the Ulriksdal Palace Theatre was originally built in the early 1670’s as an arena on the palace grounds, used by the royal family for learning the art of riding. Inside, the large building was open up to the ridge-pole and the walls were whitewashed. On the outside the walls were plastered in a light brown-reddish colour. On the front side of the building a low structure had been erected which housed an inn. The inn was popular as it was situated near the new road to Stockholm, constructed in 1670.
When Queen Lovisa Ulrika received the Ulriksdal palace as a wedding gift she commissioned the architect Carl Hårleman to turn the riding arena into a theatre of European standard. The Queen had been brought up in Germany, and was accustomed to a rich cultural life, including having a theatre at the Royal Court in Berlin. When she arrived in Sweden to marry the Crown Prince Adolf Fredrik, she was utterly displeased with the cultural life of the Swedish court. When Hårleman died, the theatre project was taken over by his disciple Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz. In 1753 the theatre was ready to be used, fully equipped and designed in the latest rococo fashion.
The inn was turned into drawing-rooms for the royalties; the middle room was made a dining room provided with a “table à confidence”, a table that was ready laid in the cellar and hoisted through the floor by means of an ingenious machinery of tackle-blocks. That way the royalties could enjoy their supper without needing to have servants around. The spectacular construction lent its name to the theatre building, the Confidencen.
In Sweden, opera and theatre flourished in the late 18th century, and singers, dancers, musicians and composers from the European continent were engaged by the Queen to perform at the Confidencen during this period. Also, the young prince Gustav (who was to become Gustav III, the “theatre king”) made his first theatrical contributions as a writer and actor on the Confidencen stage.
The Confidencen was a theatre for only almost forty years. On 16 March 1792 King Gustav III was assassinated during the Opera masquerade at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Sweden sank into cultural obscurity and the court theatres were eventually closed.
By the mid 19th century the theatre interior and machinery had been torn down, and the King Karl XV was working on turning the auditorium into a renaissance style hunting lodge complete with wooden beams in the ceiling and a large fake fire-place. The hunting lodge plans were abandoned after the death of Karl XV, and thenceforth the building was used for various purposes, serving as telegraph station, storage room, offices, classrooms and military barracks to name a few.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, by the time the theatre historian Agne Beijer rediscovered the Drottningholm palace theatre, an interest in reviving the Confidencen was also growing, but the theatre was in too bad a condition for re-opening without spending significant money on restoring it, money that couldn’t be raised from government funding. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1976, when opera singer Kjerstin Dellert was shown the by then ruined theatre and made it her life mission to restore it, that serious plans were drawn up to restore and revive the Confidencen.
In 1981 the Confidencen Association of Friends was formed to support the restoration and activity of the theatre. Mainly with the aid of sponsors, private donors and volunteering, a theatre organisation and a growing performance activity has been able to develop since the 1980’s along with the restoration of the building and the theatre interior. The royal drawing-rooms and the table à confidence were restored in the years 1994-1997. The stage with its elaborate theatre machinery was re-built in 2003-04, with the help of drawings and comparisons with the machineries at the Gripsholm and Drottningholm palace theatres.
Today, the Confidencen is almost fully restored to its original splendour. Being Sweden’s oldest rococo theatre, it attracts scholars and theatre enthusiasts from all over the world.
Every summer the Confidencen hosts an extensive season of concerts, theatre, ballet and opera. The season starts in the spring with several productions of children’s opera and theatre, aimed at schools and families. For the last four years, Confidencen has been the venue of the international O/Modernt festival in June, a series of concerts linking baroque- and classical composers with today’s music, art and literature. The season continues with a broad spectrum of concerts, ranging from the classical to the musical theatre of today. The highlight of each summer is the full-scale opera production in July, where the rococo theatre machinery comes to life in the magical glow of candle-light.