Beginning during the early decades and flourishing by the end of the 19th century, theater has been essential icon in the cultural life of the nation. This however was no easy process, and the indoctrination of the populace towards a more European-oriented approach to the arts only became successful –ironically enough- during the convulse political years of the military dictatorships that spread throughout the end of the aforementioned time period. The liberalism regnant and the exhilaration of the economic boom caused by the country’s first crop exports to Britain and such nations allowed the growth of a high-middle class that could now indulge in the sophistries of the advanced world.
It took almost 8 years to finish the building of the National Theater and many obstacles made the task about the first serious architectonic attempt of measurable scale. Folk tales tell that the plans were actually crafted entirely by European hands, yet, Costaricans who had studied abroad were De Facto responsible for the general layout. Craftsmen were indeed brought from Italy and many changes had to be performed to adjust for mistakes conceived during the rudimentary and excited process of the original conception of the structure.
The National Theater saw its fantastic debut on the evening of October 19th, 1987. A special presentation of Faust was staged by the Parisian Opera and Ballet, brought by the then president. Mr. Rafael Iglesias. The event was a major social success and the citizens of San Jose were transformed by the great power of the visual and musical arts like never before.
Technically speaking, the Theater consists of a façade of a pure and classical renaissance style, two statues greet the visitors: these belonging to the images of the great composer Beethoven and Iberian poet Calderon de la Barca. Once inside, the Vestibule is fashioned in reminiscent Roman-Pompeian style. Rightwards one would find the finely decorated Cafeteria and to the contrary direction the Administration offices. It is common custom since the 1970’s to feature an exposition of Paintings or Photography within the precincts of the cafeteria.
Further inside, one would meet the second vestibule and foyer, having stepped on the finely formed marble stairways designed by the Italian Durini Brothers, complimented by bronze works and those of artist Pablo Sierra: depicting flower and wild fruit medallions. Looking right ahead stands the visual interpretation of Milanese painter Jose Villa, who chose to depict the nation’s main economical assets of the time: coffee and bananas; local peasant men and women are portrayed in their daily duties while directly involved to the national landscape and steamboats picking up the exotic produce representing for the country’s new international aspirations. This painting is iconic to Costa Rica, so much so it was used as graphic element for the old and long extinct 5 Colones bill.
The Auditorium is impressive; closely related to the Opera House style, it embodies the spirit of the whole edifice. The ceiling is garnished by the masterpiece of also Italian painter Roberto Fontana and a beautiful candelabrum hangs to finish up for tremendous visual impact. The stage was furnished with a mechanical leverage device which allows adjusting the scenario for whichever particular visual needs of the audience.
Much can be said about the immense number of artistic features of the place, but notwithstanding it is mandatory to focus on the praise the National Theatre deserves for having enhanced the local cultural life and permitting for the breeding of such various and relevant entities as the National Dance and Theatre Companies.