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Costa Rica's National Theater

Costa Rica's National Theater

The National Theatre of Costa Rica. The theatre in the capital city San Jose is a testament to the community spirit of the Costa Rican people.

The National Theatre of Costa Rica, situated in the capital city of San José, boasts a unique and unconventional rise to existence. Its history, characterized by hard toil, struggle and setback, is nevertheless reminiscent of a phoenix rising from the ashes as it took its spectacular form.

During December 1888, a series of earthquakes destroyed the Municipal Theatre in Costa Rica; consequently, citizens called for a new theatre to be built in its place. Replacing the National Theatre became a matter of urgency when Adelina Patti, a famous opera singer of the century, was reluctant to perform in the city’s less grand Variedades Theatre. This, combined with the Costa Rican citizens’ fierce support and persistence, propelled the construction of what is now Costa Rica’s National Theatre.

However, erecting a new theatre in the capital was an expensive undertaking. In order to aid in raising the necessary funds for the project, local citizens suggested the implementation of a tax on exported coffee.  With Costa Rican coffee being perhaps the most famous worldwide, the nation capitalized on the demand for its finest product and managed to raise enough money for work to begin. After much technical planning and preparation to ensure that the next theatre would survive potential future earthquakes, its assembly began in 1891.

It took six grueling years of hard labor and expenditure to complete the new theatre, not to mention much personal and financial cost to Costa Rica’s people in the process. However, the luxurious and lavish inauguration of the National Theatre of Costa Rica in 1897 certainly seemed to be worth the long wait; the completion of the theatre was a truly patriotic event, for which women donned their most elegant outfits and men from the military proudly wore their uniforms. It might even be described as a time of national exuberance and celebration following the considerable effort applied to the lengthy mission. The people’s wish for a new theatre was finally granted.

Today, the theatre is home to a variety of entertainment and its grand architecture stands proud, illuminated against the night sky. In front of the theatre are two statues: one depicts the cherished Spanish dramatist Calderón de la Barca and the other represents the legendary composer and musician, Ludwig van Beethoven. Stepping inside the theatre, the ceiling is beautifully decorated with the artist Aleardo Villa’s painting ‘Allegory of Coffee and Bananas’ in recognition of the coffee growers of Costa Rica, whose contribution to the building of the theatre was invaluable, and in acknowledgement of the fact that bananas are one of the country’s principal trade products.

The history of Costa Rica’s National Theatre spans over almost a decade, from initial conception to its dazzling inauguration. There is no doubt that the theatre, which graces the city of San José in all its magnificent glory, is a testament to the community spirit of the Costa Rican people and their unrelenting determination to replace what the earthquake of 1888 took away.