This striking cultural monument, in neo-Renaissance style, occupies a prime site overlooking the River Vltava. The foundation stones of the National Theatre were laid, with much pomp and ceremony, in 1868; included among them were stones from places which had played a leading role in the history of Bohemia and Moravia. Unhappily on 12 August 1881, soon after the theatre was completed, it was destroyed by fire. However tragedy turned into triumph when, partly funded by contributions from the public, a second National Theatre was rebuilt within two years.
In November 1883 the new theatre opened with the splendid premiere of Bedfich Smetana’s opera Libifs-e. This second building was designed by Josef Schulz who incorporated the neighbouring Provisionary Theatre and a house into the complex. All the leading artists of the day contributed to its decoration.
Just over two decades ago, between 1977 and 1983 this majestic building underwent extensive renovation and reconstruction. Its lavish decoration both inside and out was cleaned up and restored; new rooms were added and the staging equipment was modernised. Thus today’s visitor has the same opportunity to appreciate this splendid building as those who visited it over a century ago.
It isn’t only the interior that is worth a look. The loggia facing Narodni has five arcades decorated with lunette paintings by Josef Tulka whilst on its attic floor there are statues of Apollo and Nine Muses by Bohuslav Schnirch. The latter was also the artist of the sculptural decoration on the frieze of the Loggia and statues on the northern facade. A sculpture modelled on Schnirch’s work but which is in Myslbek can be seen.
Myslbek is well represented inside the theatre too; it was he who sculpted the bronze busts of Smetana and Kolar in the portrait gallery (represented in the gallery are figures who have made an outstanding contribution to Czech dramatic art and opera) and at the front of the main foyer is his allegorical bronze statue Music dating from 1912. A series of 14 lunette paintings by Mikolas Ales on the theme of ‘My Country’ and wall paintings also by Ales and Franti’aek Zengek are displayed in the large foyer of the first balcony. The paintings in the ante hall of the main foyer are by Adolf Liebscher.
Schnirch’s work makes another appearance in the auditorium; with his sculptural group in the centre of the proscenium. Decorating the ceiling are eight fine allegorical paintings, again by Zeni6ek while the origins of the National Theatre are illustrated in a detailed painting on the stage curtain by Vojtech Hynais. Other work by Hynais in the theatre includes the frieze on the staircase to the presidential box; the paintings of the four seasons in the ladies’ boudoir of the presidential box and the painting of St Cecilia in the Directors’ reception room. Elsewhere are wall paintings celebrating the history of the Czech lands, important towns in Bohemia and Moravia and in the picture gallery, a series of paintings of the aforementioned towns, cities and regions which contributed to the foundations of the Theatre. This last series was painted in 1952.
The contemporary buildings which now form a closed square around the historic theatre are also part of the complex. They were built between 1977 and 1983 and designed by the architect K Prager and are connected with the old theatre by means of an underground tunnel. One is called The New Stage and features some of the most up-to-date theatre technology available
The National Theatre is the principal Czech Theatre, the seat of an historic artistic culture. From its inception it has attracted many of the world’s greatest performers and leading works from both the Czech and world repertoire have been performed here.