Born in Mainz, Germany on December 24, 1897, the theatre historian and stage director Walther R. Volbach began directing operas and plays at the age of 17. After his immigration to the United States in 1936, he worked for several colleges, coming to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for five years as a visiting professor following his retirement in 1965. Noted as a director of operas and plays and for his set design, Volbach was author of three books: The Problems of Opera Production (1953), Adolphe Appia : The Prophet of The Modern Theatre (1968), and Memoirs of Max Reinhardt's Theaters (1972).
The Volbach collection includes personal and professional correspondence in English and German, mostly from Volbach's later years, regarding family, publishing, lectures, and employment. The collection also includes photographs of set designs, an image of Volbach teaching a class, publications, and lecture and research notes on theatre history.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Walther R. Volbach
The theatre historian and stage director Walther R. Volbach began a distinguished career in the performing arts at a remarkably early age. Born in Mainz, Germany on December 24, 1897, he conducted his first opera at the age of 17, and within a few years had built a resume that included work as assistant to Max Reinhardt, the great Austrian director and innovative set designer, and as theatre and opera critic for the Berliner Morgenpost.
A 1918 graduate of Tuebingen, Volbach earned a doctorate at the University of Muenster in 1920 and embarked on an academic career that resulted in over 100 scholarly articles and three books: The Problems of Opera Production (1953), Adolphe Appia : The Prophet of The Modern Theatre (1968), and Memoirs of Max Reinhardt's Theaters (1972). Leaving Germany for the United States in 1936, he continued his career on faculty at several universities, including Marquette and Texas Christian University, and after his retirement in 1965, as visiting professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In the United States, Volbach continued to add to his reputation as a director and producer of operas, and for his scenic design, but he also became noted as a translator of modern European drama into English. He died in Amherst on August 5, 1996.
A small, but interesting glimpse into the career of a stage director and scenic designer, the papers of Walther R. Volbach includes scattered documents relating to his birth and education, a few publications, research notes on Adolphe Appia and theatre history, photographs of set designs for a play directed by Volbach, and some correspondence with colleagues and students, family and friends. Although the majority of items in the collection are in English, some of the correspondence is in German.
Approximately half of the collection relates to Volbach's research and writing on Appia, including a draft of Volbach's book, reviews, correspondence (1973-1989) relating to his research and publication, and essays written by Appia. The remainder of the collection includes a video on the history of the Southwest Theatre Conference (SWTC) and publications by Volbach from Players Magazine, The American-German Review, Dramatics, and The National Theatre Conference.
Gift of Fritz B. Volbach, August 1996.
Processed by Olabode Tunde-Lukan, October 2008.
Cite as: Walther R. Volbach Papers (FS 087). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.