Roth, Wolfgang, 1910-1988

Variant names
Birth 1910-02-25
Death 1988-11-11

Biographical notes:

Wolfgang Roth was born in 1910 in Berlin. In the 1930s he was active in the caberet scene and worked with Erwin Piscator and Berthold Brecht, among others, as a set designer. In the mid-thirties he moved to Vienna and from there to Switzerland. Eventually he emigrated to New York where he continued to work in the field of set design including for productions on Broadway and Metropolitan and New York City opera houses. He also created paintings, sculptures, and others works of art and was an accomplished guitarist and singer, recording 2 albums of early German folk songs for Smithsonian Records. He was married to Lee Roth who also died in 1988.

From the guide to the Wolfgang Roth Collection, 1910-1960s, (Leo Baeck Institute Archives)

Wolfgang Roth (1910-1988) was a set designer, costume designer, and artist. He was born in Berlin, and apprenticed with Traugott Müller, set designer for Erwin Piscator. In 1929 and the early 1930s, Roth collaborated on productions with Piscator and Bertolt Brecht. He was active in Germany's political cabaret (Kabarett) as a writer, performer, and designer.

In 1933, Roth left Germany for Vienna and then Zurich, where his work included designing for Vaudeville and variety shows at the Corso Theater. He moved to the United States in 1938, and became an American citizen in 1945.

Roth remained active in the theater from his arrival in the United States through the 1980s, working in the United States as well as in Canada and Europe. He designed for Broadway and off-Broadway productions, summer stock theater, and opera.

Roth's theatrical work in the 1940s included several collaborations with director Margaret Webster. Roth designed sets and costumes for her 1946 Androcles and the Lion and for her touring Shakespeare company. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Roth was chief designer for a series of plays produced by the American National Theater and Academy (ANTA) that included The Wanhope Building and The Tower Beyond Tragedy. Roth's scenery for a 1952 Broadway production of Porgy and Bess, and its subsequent European tour, was critically acclaimed. From 1959 to 1961, he designed for the Cincinnati Summer Opera, working on such operas as Aida, The Barber of Seville, and Don Giovanni. He designed productions at the Metropolitan Opera, including Don Pasquale (1955) and Tristan und Isolde (1969). Roth worked on several plays created by George Tabori: Brecht on Brecht (1961), The Cannibals (1968) and Pinkville (1971) at the American Place Theatre, and Tabori's adaption of Brecht's The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (1964). Brecht's approach to stage design was an important influence on Roth, and Roth maintained an interest in Brecht's work and writing for his entire career.

Roth had an interest in the circus, Vaudeville, and variety shows that was reflected in his art and theatrical work. A high point of Roth's career was his creation of The Littlest Circus, a dance pantomime for children that began touring in 1957 and continued to tour through the early 1960s. The show was also broadcast on CBS in 1963.

As an artist, Roth worked most frequently in paint and collage; he also created sculptures. His work was exhibited in art museums and galleries in the United States and Europe.

In the 1960s, Roth recorded two albums of German folk songs for Folkway Records. Roth played lute and sang on the recordings. In the 1970s, he created a show based on the Berlin Kabarett of his youth, in which he performed songs by Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht, Julian Arendt, and others.

He was married to Lee Roth.

From the guide to the Wolfgang Roth designs and papers, 1928-1987, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

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  • Music-halls (Variety-theaters, cabarets, etc.)
  • Opera--Production and direction
  • Theaters--Stage-setting and scenery
  • Drama
  • Theater--Production and direction
  • Stage lighting
  • Set designers--Germany
  • Costume


  • Set designers


  • Germany (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)