The first Hungarian theater opened 200 years ago in Kolozsvár

The first permanent Hungarian theater opened its doors in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca 200 years ago, on March 12, 1821. Its history dates back to 1803, when Transylvanian aristocrats bought the site and placed the foundation stone. The building received a roof in 1813, and in the following years, the interior was completed.

Besides the aristocrat families, local parishes and the Szekler seats supported the construction so that the building could serve as the “permanent residence” of the professional Hungarian theater companies playing in Transylvania. The construction was led and financially supported by noble Lázár Káli Nagy, who later became the theater’s director.

The first company that played on its stage on opening day was an amateur company of aristocrats, showing the importance of the financing medium in the city at that time.

Landowner Dániel Petrichevich Horváth translated the Theodor Körner play entitled Zrínyi, which was the opening play of the theater. He also took on the role of the main character. Contemporary documents record that he was a talented performer. He bought his lodge in 1810 for 1,000 forints. On the second day of the opening, László Szentjóbi Szabó’s historical play entitled King Mathias, was shown.

The interior of the theater was in line with the European standards of the time, with all the equipment and mechanisms required for a quick change of scenery. It was built on the model of the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, and even wagons could enter onto the stage. The theater could accommodate 1,200, but when packed, it could hold 1,500 people.

The building, which no longer exists, was home to various companies for 85 years. In 1903, the construction was declared “flammable,” there being too high a risk of a fire breaking out, and in 1906, the last performance took place.

After World War I, it was taken over by a Romanian administration and in 1934, it was demolished. In 1937, the Academic College was opened on the grounds, which exists still today.

In honor of the 200-year jubilee, the Babeș-Bolyai University is holding a series of events between March 12 and 22 entitled “The common space of the theater – the theater of the common space.” The program can also be followed online on the Facebook page of the Hungarian Theater Institute.

Featured photo: archives of the National Hungarian Theater of Kolozsvár

Author: Blanka Székely