Latvian National Theatre, Riga

Latvian National Theatre in Riga

The National Theatre is the main theatre in Riga, and the place where Latvian independence was first proclaimed. A stunning building, the theatre regularly performs plays by Latvian authors (in Latvian).

The Latvian National Theatre is the oldest functioning theatre in Riga. Located in the centre of Riga, just outside the Old Town, it stands next to the canal in a park where the Citadel used to be. The Latvian National Theatre is the place where the Latvian nation was born; on the 18th of November, 1918 the declaration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed from the theatre’s stage.

In 1897 Riga’s city council decided that it was not enough to have just one theatre in Riga. Riga’s first theatre was the German Theatre, currently the Opera House. A competition was held to choose the design of the new building. The Augusts Reinbergs project “Dum spiro, spero” (“While I breathe, I hope”) won and construction began. The theatre was opened to the public on the 14th of September, 1902 as Riga’s Russian language theatre and held both theatre and opera performances. Although this was Russian language theatre, by 1917 Riga Latvian Society was renting the premises to hold plays in Latvian.

During the First World War the theatre was evacuated, but by 1918 it was already back in business, and on the 15th of October staged Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Just over a month later, Latvia announced its independence for the first time, with the declaration being read from the theatre’s stage. The only remaining photograph from this historic event was taken in the theatre’s main hall.

In 1919, during a brief period of Bolshevik rule, the makeshift government named it the Workers’ Theatre, but it became the Latvian National Theatre soon after and on the 30th of November the official opening took place with a staging of Rūdolfs Blaumanis’ “Ugunī” (“In Fire”).

During the Soviet occupation, the Latvian National Theatre could not keep it’s nationalistic name, so it became Riga’s Dramatic Theatre, only to revert to the previous name upon the restoration of independence 40 years later.

The building is a combination of style;, in the facade you can recognise both eclectic and baroque features as well as elements of Art Nouveau, which was extremely popular in Riga at the time. The interior is very functional, but in the various decorations you can find elements of classicism.


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