By Taylor Gordy
The neo-Baroque Croatian National Theatre has long been a visual symbol of Zagreb, the city’s capital. However, for all the beauty of its brilliant yellow exterior, nothing rivals settling into a red velvet seat to view a ballet or opera produced by local talent. Visitors to the city should not miss the chance to see a show here, not only for the production itself, but also for the art and history of the theater’s interior.
On May 17, , 2016, the Croatian National Theatre performed the classical ballet Giselle by Adolphe Adam. Admission for ballets range from 90-165 kuna, or US$ 13-26, making the theater an affordable way for travelers to experience high culture without breaking their budget. The cheapest ticket puts you on the balcony, while the 165 kuna ticket scores you a box seat with a superior view of the stage.
Giselle centers on the heartbreak of a peasant girl who discovers that the man she loves is promised to another woman. To portray her shock and despair without words takes skill in conveying emotion through dance, and the company did not disappoint. Giselle was portrayed by Portuguese ballerina Catarina Meneses, who moved with all the grace and flexibility of any Russian prima ballerina. The music rose from the orchestra pit in front of the stage and was a fitting match for the dancing in terms of beauty and skill. Other ballets scheduled for the remainder of the 2016 season include such titles as Peer Gynt by Edward Clug and Peter Pan by Bruno Bjelinski and Giorgio Madia.
Stepping inside the Croatian National Theatre transports you back in time to 1895, when the theater was opened with a visit from the Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph I. The Austrian flair for ornate design is readily apparent inside the building: the auditorium ceiling was painted and decorated by Viennese artist Alexander Demetrius Goltz, and a sparkling chandelier dangles from the center. The walls are milky white with gold embellishments. Swans line the handrails up the red-carpeted staircases that lead to cozy box seats on the second level. However, one uniquely Croatian piece of art marks the building: the wall fountain The Well of Life by quintessential Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović guards the entrance to the theater. Meštrović ‘s artwork is the Croatian stamp on an otherwise Austrian structure.
The Croatian National Theatre is an important monument to the city of Zagreb. Locals and tourists gather within its walls to enjoy not just ballet, but also drama and opera. Eighteen-year- old American exchange student Annalise Metcalf, who has been studying in Zagreb for ten months, explains it best: “The architectural beauty of the outside reflects the beauty of the shows going on inside.” The theater captures the country’s historical position of being the point where east meets west: a relic from the Austro-Hungarian Empire housing a Croatian take on fine arts. It is not to be missed.