HISTORY OF THE CROATIAN NATIONAL THEATRE IN ZAGREB
The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb is the oldest national theatre institution that officially commenced working on November 24, 1860. The theatre was legally founded on August 24, 1861, when the Parliament of the Triune Kingdom of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia passed Article LXXVII on theatre and secured permanent administrative and financial support. However, the theatre is at least two decades older, although only as a concept with intention to realise this idea. The founding of the theatre was one of the most significant tasks of the Illyrian cultural program.
It was upon the invitation of the Illyrian library, especially Dimitrije Demeter that actors from Novi Sad came to Zagreb in 1840 and were complemented by Croatian actors. Within the Domorodno teatralno društvo, on June 10, 1840 they gave the historical drama Juran and Sophia or The Turks at Sisak by Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski. They remained in Croatia until 1841 and gave at least 45 premieres, proving that Zagreb was able to gather actors who were able to perform one title per week, that it had dramatists, dramaturges and translators who provided sufficient texts in the Croatian language and finally, that Zagreb had an audience that followed these performances. After their departure and in the time of enhanced Germanisation during Bach's absolutism the audience beside mostly German works were able to see a Croatian performance, such as Leaven without Bread by Nemčić or Freudenreich's Border-guards, and in 1846 the world opening night of opera Love and Malice by Vatroslav Lisinski which maintained the idea of a national theatre alive. On November 24, 1860, a performance in the German language was interrupted with demonstrations and this marked the commencement of the history of institutional and uninterrupted theatre work. At the beginning, the repertoire and style were dominantly shaped by Demeter and Freudenreich. For a short time, the artistic director was August Šenoa but with the arrival of Ivan noble Zajc in 1870, the permanent Opera ensemble had been established. The year of the beginning of Croatian ballet, the third artistic segment equal to Drama and Opera is considered to be the world opening night of opera Nikola Šubić Zrinjski in 1876. This was also the time of first Drama and Opera stars: Marija Ružika Strozzi and Andrija Fijan, Milka Trnina and Josip Kašman.
The period of the early 1920s, when the theatre was run by Julije Benešić with Branko Gavella as director of Drama and Petar Konjović as director of Opera, was marked by high artistic achievements of all the three ensembles. Dramas by then unaccepted Miroslav Krleža were premiered as well as those of Begović, Tito Strozzi who both acted and directed, Josip Kulundžić and Kalman Mesarić. The Croatian theatre was among the first in Europe to recognise the distinctiveness of Pirandello's theatre. Along exceptional works of European music, operas of Croatian composers such as Antun Dobronić, Krsto Odak, and Krešimir Baranović were staged. Baranović composed ballet The Gingerbread Heart choreographed by Margareta Froman. Set designers Ljubo Babić and Vasilij Uljaniščev brought the fine art expressionism to the Zagreb stage, and actors were educated at the state school for acting. The 1930s brought less financial support and increased political control, but the theatre even in such circumstances succeeded in maintaining the achieved artistic level. Along the already acclaimed dramatists, among the first to present their works were Miroslav Feldman, Marijan Matković and Ranko Marinković, while the folk plays by Mesarić and Senečić received the greatest popularity. There were dramatizations of historical novels by Zagorka and Šenoa and comedies of Branislav Nušić. The turning point was the opening night of Držić's Uncle Maroje in adaptation and direction of Marko Fotez. The Opera reached its peak with world opening nights of two unsurpassed works in their genre, operetta Little Floramye by Ivo Tijardović and the national opera Ero the Joker by Jakov Gotovac. The Ballet was run by Ana Roje and Oskar Harmoš and its peak was ballet The Devil in the Village composed by Fran Lhotka and choreographed by Pia and Pino Mlakar.
In the inter-war period the acting couple Vika Podgorska and Dubravko Dujšin, as well as Nada Babić and August Cilić drew special attention of the spectators and critics. Mia Čorak Slavenska and singer Zinka Kunc exchanged the CNT in Zagreb for world stages. At the time, the theatre had another stage at its disposal, first in Tuškanac, then in Frankopanska.
The war and the first post-war years brought a series of changes in all the theatre ensembles, primarily political changes, and in 1953 the theatre was faced with the departure of some actors and directors to the newly founded Zagreb Drama Theatre, thus leaving the main theatre without the second stage. The answer to new challenges of that period were offered: by productions of Bojan Stupica, Vladimir Habunek, and later on Kosta Spaić, Georgij Paro, Božidar Violić, Joško Juvančić, by the foundation of a Chamber stage in 1957, fine art neomodernism of set designers Božidar Rašica, Kamilo Tompa, Aleksandar Augustinčić and costume designers Inga Kostinčer, Vanda Pavelić, with actresses such as Ervina Dragman, Mira Župan, Emil Kutijar, singing achievements of Marijana Radev, Josip Gostič, Nada Puttar Gold, Vladimir Ruždjak, Tomislav Neralić, by dance appearances of Sonja Kastl, Vesna Butorac, Milko Šparemblek, Damir Novak, by world opening nights of Marinković's Glorija and Matković's Heracles, operas Equinox of Ivo Brkanović, The Witch from Labin by Natko Devčić and Coriolanus by Stjepan Šulek, ballets A Man in front of the Mirror by Milko Kelemen and by opening the Drama repertoire to works by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh and Jean-Paul Sartre and in Opera to works by Benjamin Britten and Dmitry Shostakovich.
The continuity of performing on the central stage was interrupted between 1967 and 1969 when the theatre went through a thorough reconstruction during the mandate of general manager Mirko Božić. Performances were given in other city venues, but the ensembles remained together and after the return to the main stage they continued with the repertory policy of a national theatre. On the one side the audience was offered new readings of world classics, the same titles on which Miletić built his repertoire, as well as Croatian canonical works such as Uncle Maroje, Dubrovnik Trilogy and the Glembay trilogy, but also the most significant works of opera and ballet literature. On the other side, Drama, among other titles, gave the world opening night of Antun Šoljan's The Bard, Resignation of Čedo Prica, Kamov by Slobodan Šnajder and several dramatizations of novels by Marinković and Krleža, operas The Storm by Stjepan Šulek, State of Siege by Milko Kelemen, Richard III by Igor Kuljerić and ballets Three Cavaliers of Miss Melanija and Kraljevo by Boris Papandopulo and Songs of Love and Death choreographed by Milko Šparemblek to the music of Gustav Mahler. The theatre continues in the same direction in the 21st century as well.