National Theatre and Nova Scena Two Eye Catchers

The National Theatre (Narodni divadlo) and the New Stage (Nove Scena) are two eye catchers on Narodni Avenue. The contrast between the theatre and the adjacent Nova Scena could not be greater: Neo-Renaissance concept of a classic building side by side with communist architecture. Narodni Trida leads from Prikope Street and Wenceslas Square to the Vltava River. Narodni is a shopping street with a variety of shops and imposing public buildings: Adria Palace and imitation Venetian palace and the former Prague Insurance Building with the letters PRAHA interlaced in five circular windows.

national theatre

No greater contrast than a classic neo-renaissance building next to Brutalistist architecture: the National Theatre next to Nova Scena.

national theatre

National Theatre: the Beginning

The National Theatre is the most famous and probably the most beautiful theatre in Prague. It stages opera, ballet and drama performances. The first stone was laid in 1868 and finally the theatre opened on 11 June 1881 with a performance of Smetana’s opera Libuse, especially written and composed for the occasion. She was a princess and the legendary founder of Prague. Eleven performances followed and the theatre was closed down temporarily to finish the building.

During construction works a devastating fire broke out and most of the building was destroyed. On 18 November 1883, the theatre was opened, again with the performance of Libuse. The first (and so far the last) restoration started in 1977. The theatre reopened in 18 November 1983, on the 100th anniversary of its second opening, and again the opera Libuse was performed.

This opera is still on the repertoire and performed every year on 28 October, the national holiday celebrating Czech Independence Day. On the lowest level of the theatre, there is a room with a scale model and photos showing the devastating fire.

national theatre

National Theatre: the exterior

The national theatre stands on the Vltava River. The striking cerulean jewel-box roof is decorated with stars symbolizes the top for which each artist strives. Above the entrance porch is a loggia with Corinthian columns and the statues of Apollo and the nine muses. The front of the building is flanked by two staircase pylons each with a three-horse chariot and Nike, the Goddess of Victory on top of them. On ground level, five arches lead to the main entrance.

national theatre

National Theatre Opulent Interior

The gold and crimson interior of the theatre, lined with balconies, carries an air of elegance. The main foyer showcases a sophisticated ceiling with paintings of allegorical figures. Bronze statues along the walls. The auditorium has a painted ceiling showing ten female allegories. The presidential opera box, the former royal opera box, is decorated with famous Czechs from the past. The stage screen features a painted scene from Czech history. The auditorium is U-shaped with balconies and galleries. The orchestra pit can hold a symphony orchestra and the stage is impressively large.

national theatre

Nova Scena: an Eyesore?

Nova Scena is home to magic lantern shows. Laterna Magika is a refined mix of pantomime, light effects and image projection. The façade of Nova Scena is made of blown glass and consists of 4.200 separate glass blocks, each weighing about 40 kilograms. The glass wall reduces the noise nuisance from busy Národní Street, and also provides thermal insulation for the building.

An imposing chandelier hangs down from the fourth floor in the centre of the spiral staircase. The chandelier is made up of pentagonal prisms with fluorescent lighting that cast a sparkling light around it. The interior is Cuban serpentinite (often erroneously called green marble). This was a very expensive material, which Cuba supplied as payment of a debt to communist Czechoslovakia.

Constructed between 1977 and 1983, the building is a prime example of Czech Brutalist architecture but with a twist. It features all the style characteristics like repetition, geometry, massive walls and blocky appearance. Instead of exposed concrete Nova Scena is of opaque glass. The interior has original designer elements, such as stainless steel banisters and crystal lamps, giving it the unmistakable look of the 1970s.

At the time the building was quite controversial. Today, some people consider it the ugliest building in Prague together with the Zizkov television tower

national theatre

Sauna and Opera

Listening to opera or ballet music can easily be combined with a visit to the Národní sauna on the top floor of the administration building of the National Theater. The sauna was built at the same time as Nová Scéna and was intended for singers, dancers and other artists employed by the National Theater so that they could relax before or after the performance.

The sauna is now open to everyone. After using the sauna, it is wonderful to relax in a lounger in the relaxation room, where from 7 pm you can listen to the music of the opera or ballet performance of that evening (which usually start at 7 o’clock). The sauna relaxation room is connected to National Theater by speakers.

Behind the Nová Scéna building is an inner courtyard and the administration building of the National Theater. The sauna is located on the top floor, open from 4 pm to 10 pm during the theater season and closed in July and August.

Getting there

The National Theatre and Nova Scena are on Narodni Trida (Avenue) and located next to each other in the Nove Mesto district, close to the Vltava River and Most Legii (Legion Bridge). This bridge is a mixture of Art Nouveau and neo-Baroque styles. On the bridge are two towers which were used to collect tolls.

Metro lijn B, station Narodni Trida, tram 2,9,18,22 Narodni divadlo stop.

Photos Marianne Crone

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