The premiere of the opera Nikola Šubić Zrinjski in 1876, by Ivan pl. Zajc, the founder of the Zagreb opera theatre, was extraordinarily successful. Following the Croatian hero Nikola Šubić Zrinjski’s last days in Siget and his heroic death, this opera has to this day kept an exceptional and honourable place on the Croatian opera scene. The opera owes its great popularity to its portrayal of a real hero from the history of Croatia, who saved Slavonia from complete enslavement during difficult times of Turkish invasion. Although he could not prevent the Turks from occupying some towns, he courageously died while defending Siget. Apart from the strongly patriotic atmosphere of the opera, an important feature of Zajc’s writing is visible in his display of two differentiated and opposed worlds, each of them carrying their own characteristics. Thoughtfully profiling the characters of Zrinjski and Sultan Suleiman in accordance with historical facts, Zajc also creates two important female characters in Croatian opera history as their antipodes, Eva and Jelena, assigning them an important dramaturgical and musical role.
There are operas, and then there is Zrinjski.— Boris Papandopulo
The highlight of Zajec’s opera, accentuated by Dolenčić’s direction and further emphasized by the performances of Marof and Franetović, is the meeting between Zrinjski and Sokolović in Act II, when the Turkish vizier offers the Count a royal crown in return for the keys to Siget which Zrinjski rejects by replying: ‘The banus is a king to the Croats, he rules in the king’s stead.’— Vjesnik