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National Theatre (Narodni Divadlo)

this Theatre was last updated on 12 Aug 04


The historical building of the National Theatre in Prague is the embodiment of the will of the Czech nation for national independence. The broad masses of the people took a share in its building by making collections for it and the ceremonial lying of the cornerstone on 16th May 1868 became a nation-widepolitical demonstration. The idea of building a worthy stone theatre came into being in the autumn of 1844 at meetings of patriots in Prague and began to be put into practice with a request for "the privilege of building, furnishing, maintaining and directing" an indepedent Czech theatre, which the historian František Palacký put before the Committee of the Estates of the Czech parliament on 29th January 1845. The privilage was granted in April of that year. But it was only six years later - in April 1851 - that the Society for Founding a Czech National Theatre in Prague, which had been set in meantime, issued the first public proclamation on starting collections. A year later the money collected was used to buy a plot of land with an area of rather less than 28 ares (one are = 100 square metres) belonging to the former Salthouse, which did indeed mean that the theatre would be in a magnificent position on the bank of the river Vltava, opposite the panorama of Hrad?any, but at the same time created difficult conditions for the architects owing to its confined quadrilateral shape with to parallel sides.The period of repressive absolutism under the Austrian minister Bach stopped the preparations for the building, supporting the idea of a modest temporary building, which was built on the southern part ofthe theatre's plot of land by the architect Ignác Ullman and opened on 18th November 1862. This buildingof the Prozatímní divadlo (Temporary Theatre) later became part of the final National Theatre building; its outer casing is still visible in the raised part of the back section of the building and the interior arrangement was only effaced during the latest reconstruction of the National Theatre in1977 - 1983. When this minimum programme had been put into effect by F. L. Rieger and the Committee of the Czech Lands a great offensive was started by the young, progressive supporters of the original large-scaleplans for the building (Karel Sladkovsk?, journalist and politician, Miroslav Tyr?, aesthete and politician, Jan Neruda, poet, Vít?slav Hálek, poet). In 1865 these people came to the head of the Society and called on the architect Josef Zítek, 33-year-old professor of structural engineering at the Prague Technical University, to make plans for the National Theatre. These won a subsequent competition and in 1867 work could begin on the building site. On 16th May 1868 the foundation was ceremonially laid, in November the foundation was completed, in 1875 the walls of the new building had reached their full height and in 1877 the theatre was roofed. At the same time a public competition had been going onsince 1873 for the decoration of the building, the main theme of which had been planned by a special commitee headed by Karel Sladkovský: this was to be the one hand classical, in the spirit of the neo-Renaissance conception of the building, and on the other inspired by the enthusiasm of the period for Slav mythology end for the events of the ""Královodvorský and Zelenohorský Manuscripts" (heroic epics on Czech history). These two concepts, evident in pictures in the style of Mánes and linked with contemporary romantic landscape painting (also connected with themes from Czech history) gave the ideational basis for the school of art that is today called the art of the National Theatre generation.

The National Theatre was opened for the first time on June 11, 1881 in honour of a visit by Crown Prince Rudolf. After another eleven performances the building was closed for completion of construction work - during which, on August 12, 1881, a fire broke out that completely ruined the copper dome, the auditorium, and the stage. The conflagration was perceived as a national catastrophe and evoked enormous resolve that aided new fund-raising drives: within forty-seven days a million florins were collected. However, the struggles that flared up behind the scenes after the catastrophe were not in accord with this enthusiasm on the part of the nation. Prof. Josef Zítek, the architect, was laid aside and his pupil Josef Schulz was placed in charge of the reconstruction work. Schulz expanded the building to include an apartment house belonging to Dr. Polák that stood behind the former Provisional Theatre, which he incorporated into the overall structure, and he also changed somewhat the disposition of space in the auditorium to improve visibility of the stage. He showed great sensitivity in respecting the style of Zítek's building, and thus succeeded in joining three structures by three different architects in absolute stylistic unity.

The National Theatre was opened on 18th November 1883 with a performance of Bedøiich Smetana's opera "Libuše", specially composed for this gala occasion. The building, perfectly technically equipped (electric lighting, steel stage constrution) served without much alteration for almost ahundred years. Only on 1st April 1977 was the National Theatre closed for more than six years with aperformance of Alois Jirásek's "The Lantern". Its overall reconstrution was started under the supervision of the chief designer, architekt Zdenìk Vávra. The extensive rebuilding and competition of the theatre's surroundings had to be finished by 18th November 1983, as this was the hundredth anniversary of the original opening. On this day the historic building was opened to the public, again with a performance of Smetana's "Libuše".

At present this historic, important and beautiful building, together with its ad joining modern building where, among other things, the main bookingoffice is located, is the main stage for three leading National Theatre companies - the drama,opera and ballet companies.

Narodni 2
Prague 1
Czech Republic
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