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Národní Divadlo

Národní Divadlo

Dates: 27 / 11 - 28 / 11 / 11


The beginnings of the Prague National Theatre reach back to 1845 when a renowned historian and statesman, František Palacký submitted an application to the Provincial Committee of the Czech Assembly, requesting a privilege for Prague to maintain a theatre independent of the Habsburg cultural politics. The privilege was granted. The plans were suspended due to the 1848 Revolution, however by that time the Czech people recognized the political significance of the national theatre as centre of national culture. In 1851, the newly founded Society for the Establishment of the Czech National Theatre in Prague made the first public appeal to start a collection. A year later the proceeds went toward the purchase of land covering an area of over 10 ha which determined the magnificent site of the theatre on the banks of the river Vltava facing the panorama of Prague Castle.

However, the cramped area and its trapezium shape posed problems for the designers of the building. Even greater challenge was the reactionary politics by Alexander bon Bach, Habsburg’s interior minister, aimed at constraining the privileges of national minorities in the multi-national state. The Society sought to appease the authorities and decided to erect a building on the south side of the theatre parcel. Designed by architect Ignac Ullmann, the theatre opened on November 18, 1962 as Prozatimní Divadlo (Provisional Theatre).

Plans to erect the Národní Divadlo intensified after von Bach’s retirement. On May 16, 1868, the foundation stone was laid and the event was accompanied by a grand patriotic manifestation. The neo-renaissance building was designed by Josef Zítek, a professor of civil engineering at the Prague Technical College. In 1871, outstanding artists inspired Slavonic mythology (painter Josef Mánes, sculptors Bohuslav Schnirch and Antonín Wagner) prepared its rich interior artwork.

The National Theatre was opened for the first time on June 11, 1881, to honour the visit of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. After 11 performances and two weeks of festive celebrations, the theatre closed to enable final the completion of the finishing touches. Less than a month after a fire broke out, which destroyed the copper dome, the auditorium and the stage of the theatre. The fire was seen as a national catastrophe and was met with a mighty wave of determination to take up a new collection: within a month and half a million guldens were collected. The construction work began.

Zitek’s pupil architect Josef Schulz was summoned to work on the reconstruction. He was the one to assert the expansion of the edifice to include the Provisional Theatre and one of the neighbouring blocks of flats. The building, with perfect technical equipment and electric illumination, served without any extensive modifications for almost one hundred years. The interior artwork was done by Mikoláš Aleš and František Ženíšek. The building of the National Theatre was inaugurated on November 18, 1883, with a performance of Smetana’s festive opera Libuše, composed for this occasion.

Over 100 years, Národní Divadlo served as one of the most significant centres of the Czech culture gathering a great number of outstanding artists: playwrights Julius Zeyer, Alois Jirásek, Jaroslav Kvapil, Karel Čapek; composers Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Karel Kovařovic; opera singers Otakar Mařák, Beno Blachut, Ema Destinnová, Jarmila Novotná; dancers Augustin Berger, Saša Machov, Joe Jenčík, Marta Drottnerová; actors Eduard Vojan, Jindřich Mošna, Zdeněk Štěpánek, Václav Vydra, Marie Hübnerová, Hana Kvapilová, Otýlie Sklenářová-Malá, Leopolda Dostalová, Hugo Haas, Jaroslav Vojta, Ladislav Pešek, Jaroslav Marvan, Karel Höger, Dana Medřická, Rudolf Hrušínský, Josef Kemr i Boris Rösner.

Today, the National Theatre operates on four stages: Large Auditorium for 990 seats, Small Auditorium for 397 (from 1983) which are located in the main building; Starovskie Divadlo for 695 seats (the theatre was established in 1783 and became part of the national theatre complex in 1920), and experimental stage Divadlo Kolowrat for 80 seats (from 1991). National Theatre comprises three artistic ensembles – opera, drama and ballet – which alternate in performances on all stages. On May 4, 2005, Komerční banka signed an agreement with the National Theatre in Prague to annually honour the most prominent performances in overall three categories - ballet, drama and opera. Apart from a statue designed by Jaroslav Róna, each winner also receives an amount of 100,000 Czech korun (approx. €4,000).

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This project is supported by the Ministry of Culture
and National Heritage and The City of Warsaw
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