Latvian National Theatre (Latvijas Nacionālais teātris) (Riga)

Latvian National Theatre in Riga


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Description of the Latvian National Theatre

The Latvian National Theater is a theater in Riga, Latvia, which has been operating since November 30, 1919. The theater building was built in 1902 as the 2nd Riga City Theater at the expense of the Riga City Board.

The State of Latvia, the Latvian Cultural Foundation and the City of Riga participate in the maintenance of the Latvian National Theatre. The theater building was built in an eclectic style and is an architectural and artistic monument of national importance.



Construction of the theater building
In 1897, the Riga city board decided that the city needed a second city theater (the first was the so-called German theater), organizing an open sketch competition, in which the 1st place winner will also be the project implementer and construction manager. Six projects participated in the competition, which were mainly submitted by architects of the Russian Empire. The winner was the project with the motto "Dum spiro, spero" ("While I breathe, I hope!" Ovid), which was submitted by Augusts Reinbergs (founder and chairman of the Riga Society of Architects and later a member of the city council). The idea was supported by Vidzeme governor V. Surovtsev and the city council, which donated 10,000 rubles for the purchase of decorations and stage furniture. A site for the construction of the theater was found on Pushkin Boulevard on the other side of the city moat. The then well-known businessman Krišjānis Ķergalvis won the tender for the main construction works. The artistic decoration works were led by the Berlin architect V. Henschels, the constructive part was supervised by T. Tiefs. The carpenter's work was supervised by K. Steinerts, the elder of the Small Guild, and the sculptural and ornamental works of the facade were ordered by A. Foltz's workshop. The glazier's work was carried out by the workshop of craftsman A. Shvolkovskis, the carpentry by M. Pagast's company. Artistic forgings were commissioned by K.J. Bergman's workshop (which used to make door elements for the Dome Church).

In June 1899, construction work on the building began. Unthankful was the location of the plot with the sharp downward slope of Nikolaja Street, only 30 meters from the Nikolaja Bridge over the city canal (which was 61 cm higher than the sidewalk in front of the theater). Ground research showed that the main part of the building is located above the old fortification pit, on the sand. Earth, sawdust, etc., is piled on top of everything as a filling. materials. Under the projected part of the stage was the spire of the former Citadel bastion. While digging a construction pit, they found a paved road and the remains of the telegraph wires that connected the stock exchange with Bolderaj in 1852. In order to neutralize the flowing sand, 1,493 piles are laid in the foundations of the building. To avoid possible groundwater moisture, the walls of the basement were covered with Portland cement, which was popular at the time. The walls were made of bricks in lime mortar, the basement ceiling was vaulted. The roof structure consisted of six iron beams, from which hung a wooden ceiling designed according to the English system. The ceiling had three large openings in the longitudinal axis and 12 smaller ones for fresh air supply. They were covered with wooden slats pressed into U-shaped iron holders. The plaster was placed on a double layer of reeds, followed by a cork filling covered with 2.5 cm thick boards. The roof was covered with galvanized iron sheet, which was painted green, which effectively contrasted with the surroundings in winter, but matched the foliage of the surrounding trees in summer. During the construction, the architect was criticized for the low volumes of the building and non-homogeneous roof shapes, not being able to imagine how picturesquely the baroque volumes of the building, the plastic curvature of the mansard roof and the arrangement of building materials would fit into the environmental landscape. The building was electrified: 4 chandeliers in the foyer, 428 lamps inside the building, but the stage part was especially delicately lit for those times - 2879 white, 180 red and the same green lamps, as well as two corner lamps for effects. The theater building was also built at a technically high level, because the ventilation and air conditioning system, ingeniously created at that time, was still working in the 20th century. in the second half. The iron curtain was made in the Riga factory "R.H. Mantels" and it served until the reconstruction of the theater in the 21st century. at the beginning. The total cost of the entire building and stage equipment was 344,964 rubles and 21 kopecks. The stage equipment was ordered in Munich.

Riga City Second Theater (1902-1918)
The Second Theater of the city of Riga, or the Riga Russian Theater, was opened on September 14, 1902, and its work began on September 15 with the premiere of A. Ostrovsk's play "Sniegbaltīte". Both theater and opera performances took place in the theater building.

As the front of the First World War approached, most of the Russian inhabitants of Riga fled. After the February Revolution, in the summer of 1917, the Latvian Stage Society, which united 34 Latvian theater organizations during the events, proposed to the Riga City Council to return the theater building to the disposal of Latvian actors. The initiative met sharp objections from the Russian members of the Riga City Council. "Colonel Engler reprimanded that the 2nd theater was built specifically for the art of Russian theater and therefore it is unacceptable to expel Russian art from it, where the Latvians already have two theaters on Pushkin Boulevard and Romanova Street. Bogačov is also definitely against handing over the Russian theater to the Latvians, because with destroying the work of Russian culture; the Latvians do not need this theater, because they have rooms for rallies, which are also sufficient for their theater performances," "Baltijas Vēstnesis" reported from the decisive council meeting. There was also bickering among Latvian MPs. Aurēlijs, close to the Latvian Association of Riga (RLB) Zöberg insisted that the empty theater should not be given to the "completely foreign" Workers' Theater Council, but to the traditional RLB Theater. However, the Riga City Council headed by Gustav Zemgal, with 24 votes in favor and 14 against, decided to hand over the 2nd city (Russian) theater building to the Riga Workers' Theater theater council.

When the German troops occupied Riga in the fall of 1917, the theater was rented by the theater commission of the Latvian Society of Riga. In 1918, part of the actors returned from their flight and on October 15, the Latvian opera performance "The Wandering Dutchman" by Richard Wagner was held under the auspices of Riga City Mayor Paul Hopf (the orchestra was conducted by Teodors Reiters). On November 18, 1918, the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed in the theater building.

Workers' Theater (1919)
With the decree of February 8, 1919 on the nationalization of theaters, the chairman of the LSPR Government, Pēteris Stučka, assigned this building to the Latvian Workers' Theater (the statutes of the Workers' Theater were adopted, i.e. it was founded on July 17, 1917), entrusting its management to the writer Andrejas Upītis, the head of the Art Department of the Commissariat of Education and ensuring regular funding from the state budget. On February 23, it started its activity with Leon Paegles' play "Resurrection" (directed by Alfred Amtmanis-Briedīš). The theater troupe was made up of the experienced artists of the former New Riga Theater who came from Soviet Russia - Alfreds Amtmanis-Briedītis, Berta Rūmniece, Aleksis Mierlauks, etc. - as well as a number of actors who founded the Provisional National Theater in Valka in July 1918, at the instigation of the poet Jānis Akurater. On May 22, the LSPR government and the army had to evacuate Riga, but on August 15, the headquarters of the Kurzeme division requisitioned both city theaters - the Workers' Theater stopped its work.

Latvian National Theater (1919-1940)
On September 23, 1919, the head of the Latvian Ministry of Education's writing and theater department, Jānis Akuraters, issued an order on the establishment of the National Theater as a state theater. A special commission was established in the Ministry of Education whose task was to reorganize the Workers' Theater and the name of the theater is also being changed to "National Theater of Latvia". The events were delayed by the Bermontiade, but on November 30, 1919, the Latvian National Theater was opened with the premiere of R. Blaumanis's play "Ugunī" (directed by Alekš Mierlaukas, who came from Russia). In the fall of 1921, Rainis became the director of the National Theater for four years. Famous directors such as Biruta Skujeniece, Ernests Feldmanis, Aleksis Mierlauks, Alfreds Amtmanis-Briedītis, etc. work in the theater.

At the beginning of the twenties, the most performed plays, therefore the most demanded by the audience, were the dramatization of the Kaudzis brothers' novel "Mērnieku laiki in Slātava", which was performed more than 30 times in 1922; Raina's "I played, danced" and "Jāzeps and his brothers" in 1922 - 25 and 17 times, respectively. In 1923, A. Brigadere's "Maija and Paija" was performed 26 times, and Aspazija's "Aspazija" - 21 times. In the 1920s and 1930s, Fyodor Komisarzhevsky, Aleksandr Zelverovich and Mikhail Chekhov staged plays alongside the local ones, who also brought up the issues of acting techniques. As well as Latvian directors and actors who gained professional education and experience in Russia and Germany: Ernests Feldmanis, Jānis Zariņš, Marija Leiko, Lilija Štengele and Teodors Lācis. This galaxy of directors established the now traditional style of the National Theater - national patriotic ideals in large productions with psychological realism in the play style, individualized mass spectacles, a high dialogue culture, actors - personalities and painted scenery in the background.

Along with Jānis Kugas, the scenography of the performances was created by the artists of the Riga Expressionist group established in 1919: Voldemārs Tone, Oto Skulme and Niklāvs Strunke, Eduards Brencēns, but from 1920 until 1938, the former assistant of Jānis Kuga in the New Riga Theater became the artist of the National Theater. professional decorator Artūrs Zimmermanis.

Drama Theater (1940-1988)
After the Soviet occupation of Latvia on August 7, 1940, the theater was renamed the State Drama Theater of the LPSR, but the actor Žanis Katlaps was appointed as its director (at first, Emīls Mačs, but he refused the position).

During the occupation of Nazi Germany, the theater troupe was fired and performances of the Soldiers' Theater were held in the building. In 1942, the Ostland authorities, however, allowed the troupe to resume operations under the authority and supervision of the occupation administration's Arts and Public Affairs Administration - but forbade the use of the theater name "National Theatre" and renamed it "Rīgas Dramatic Theatre", in which L. Bērziņa, J. Osis, E. Zīle, A. Mitrēvics, K. Veits, Ž. Katlaps, etc. actors.

Drama theater performances resumed a week after the Red Army entered Riga on October 20, 1944. In 1946, the coat of arms of the city of Riga was forged from the facade and the coat of arms of the LPSR was created instead. The theater was under the management of the Arts Affairs Department of the LPSR and operated as an independent legal entity on the basis of economic calculations and the theater's statutes. Alfreds Amtmanis-Briedītis (1944-1966) was appointed as the main director. In the part of the balconies, 12 decorative vases were destroyed as "excess luxury" and the baroque ornaments above the entrances were removed. On September 5, 1949, with the decision of the MP of the LPSR no. 974 theater was given the name "State Academic Drama Theater of the LPSR" and from 1953 the theater was under the Ministry of Culture of the LPSR. In the 1950s, a stage with a revolving wheel was built.

In 1971, the theater was named after A. Upīš. In the 1970s, according to the project of O. Dombrovskis, a small auditorium and a cafe were arranged in the basement of the building. The main director of the theater at that time was Alfreds Jaunushans (1966-1987). In order to improve the quality of acting, not only the Artistic Council worked, but the performances were also analyzed in the production meetings of the actors' workshop, where the entire troupe had to participate and where the topics to be discussed were divided - who would talk about and analyze whose work. The quality of the performances was also influenced by the discussions in the party's original organization, which year by year became an increasingly important part of the theater, which had advisory rights, which sometimes turned into decision-making rights. The authorities demanded from the dramatists performances that glorified Soviet power, but the audience preferred to attend performances of plays by Latvian classics (Raiņa and R. Blaumaņa), as well as the most prominent dramatists of other countries (V. Shakespeare, H. Ibsen, A. Chekhov, etc.) - NT succeeded to achieve a balance between these two requirements and the hall was always crowded because people were looking for the truth, which the directors and actors often tried to tell "through flowers" with artistic means. As if it were a holiday, hundreds of people always gathered at the Drama Theater to watch "Skroderdienas Silmachis" by Rudolph Blaumanis, which turned into an annual tradition at the beginning of summer until our days.

The works of playwrights from other countries were also staged. For example, for the first time in the USSR, the production of the famous Williams play "Streetcar Named Desire" took place in the Drama Theater of the Latvian SSR (dir. Alfred Jaunušans) with Antra Liedskalnin in the main role. As the theater writer Lilija Dzene writes: "A. Jaunušana and A. Liedskalniņa's tragic request for mutual understanding and compassion was included in the context of the best performances of the Latvian theater of that period."

From 1967 to 1981, the director Alfred Jaunušans staged H. Gulbja's "Aija žužu, a child as a bear" (1968), Raini's "Pūt, vējiņi" (1968), T. Williams' "Ilgu tram" (1969), F. Molnāra "Lilioms" (1971), A. de Mises "Lorencacio" (1973), J. Farker's "Cavalier's Trick" (1975), R. Blaumanis' "From the Sweet Bottle" (1981). Director Mihails Kublinskis staged "Wild captain Kihnu Jens" (1967) by J. Smūl, "Santa Cruz" by M. Friša (1971), l. Įurko "Elektra, my love" (1977), J. Goldman's Lion in Winter (1980). Valdis Lūriņš staged "Spartaks" by A. Upīš (1977), "Emīls and Berlin Boys" (1979) by Ē.Kestner. The 1970s in the theater are associated with the names of famous actors such as Anta Klints, Elza Radziņa, Kārlis Sebris, Velta Līne, Lidija Freimane, Astrida Kairisa, Đirts Jakovlevs, Uldis Dumpis, Lāsma Kugrēna, etc. Gunārs Zemgals dominated scenography. In the 1980s, a course of young actors entered the theater: Dace Bonāte, Ilze Rudolfa, Ināra Slucka, Juris Lisners and Jānis Reinis. As the authors of plays, three dominated - Gunārs Priede, Harijs Gulbis and Pauls Putniņš, on these authors, who competed with each other, the line of national drama remained until the beginning of the 90s.

Latvian National Theater (from 1988)
On November 17, 1988, the name of the Latvian National Theater was renewed, which was approved by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers on March 8, 1991). The main director of the theater was Mihails Kublinskis (1987-1989). Economically, it is an autonomous state company "State company with limited liability of Latvia National Theatre", which operates on the basis of the theater's statutes and enjoys the rights of a legal entity.

In recent years, directors Indra Roga, Regnārs Vaivars, Elmārs Senkovs, Valters Sīlis, Kirils Serebrennikovs, Kārlis Krūmiņš, Ināra Slucka and others have staged plays in the theater. There are 850 audience seats in the Great Hall, and 100 seats in the actors' hall.

Principal Directors and Artistic Directors
Alexis Mierlauks (1919—1921)
Alfreds Amtmanis-Briedītis (1944—1966)
Alfred Jaunushan (1966—1987)
Mihails Kublinskis (1987—1989)
Olgerts Crowder (1989—1995)
Edmund Freiberg (1995-2011)
Elmārs Senkovs (from 2022)