Live theatrical performances such as music, theater, dance and other cultural art forms are popular throughout Costa Rica. The performing arts are encouraged by government initiatives which keep the arts alive and well. This includes keeping the arts as a part of school curriculums. Costa Ricans claim to have more theatre companies per capita than anywhere else. Many productions are staged in English and they include works from the complete dramatic spectrum. Tourist resorts will sometimes stage performances, failing that, there is sure to be a playhouse in a nearby town.
When visiting San Jose, be sure to include a tour of the most remarkable theatrical landmark in the country, the Teatro Nacional or the National Theatre. The setting is one of glamour and elegance in this Neo-Baroque, Parisian designed theatre.
Building the National Theatre
In the 1890s, many of the wealthy people were European expatriate coffee and banana exporters. It is said they suffered from boredom (or lack of culture) in the remote city of San Jose.
So they spearheaded the creation of this classical theatre as a way to bring entertainment and culture for themselves, all citizens and visitors.Thus came about the idea for the National Theatre which took a long time to from conceptualization, design and approval. Financing came from the ‘Coffee Tax’ placed on exports. Eventually the ’Coffee Tax’ was revoked and replaced by a general tax on imports, thus requiring an involuntary contribution from all citizens to finance its construction.
Construction of the National Theatre began in 1891 but it was not completed and opened to the public until October 21st, 1897. It is a 19th century reproduction of the famous Paris Opera House. The theatre’s opening production was ‘Faust’ written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Touring the National Theatre
Visitors feel like they have taken a step back in time when approaching the entrance to the National Theatre. The building is considered by many to be the finest historical, architectural work in San Jose.
Statues of Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the famous Spanish playwright and of the German composer Ludwig van Beethovenstand outside the building. Inside the entrance hall, visitors walk on Italian, Carrara marble, embellished with bronze trim and 22 carat gold overlays. The ceiling is fresco lined and though not as famous as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, is rated highly amongst the worlds finest. The floor upstairs is constructed of the choicest tropical woods, of varying colors. The floor’s beauty is enhanced by carvings, etchings and inlays, applied by skillful craftsmen. Intricate moldings are everywhere, many covered by gold-leaf embellishments that make the light from the chandeliers shimmer in its reflection.
In the entranceway, the painting on the ceiling is a magnificent mural entitled the “Allegory of Coffee and Bananas” (Alegoría al Café y al Banano) by Italian artist Aleardo Villa (1865-1906). This same scene is printed on the Costa Rican 5-Colón banknote. Visible on the mural are trading ships docked in behind the scene. In the foreground, foreign traders inspect bunches of green bananas and sacks of coffee beans. Tico’s show their produce to prospective buyers whilst others are busy loading the cargo onto the ships. There is a long standing debate about this scene. Some argue that Aleardo Villa, the painter showed a lack of familiarity with the ‘banana trade’ that resulted in a flaw because that is not how Ticos would handle the bananas. The Tico is seen holding a bunch of green bananas upright, in front of his body. Skeptics say “That is not how Ticos would carry bananas”. Instead, they would sling the bunch over their shoulder. Others, however are of the opinion that, the Tico, a farmer, is displaying his bunch of bananas for the buyer to inspect its quality and therefore see no flaws in the mural. Aleardo Villa committed suicide at 41 years of age.
Performances at the National Theatre
Today the National Theatre is open to the public to tour the facility during the day and remains active, holding daily performances. The National Symphonic Orchestra is a frequent entertainer and often there are free noon hour concerts. For travelers, this presents an opportunity to spend an evening enjoying the cultural arts, perhaps an opera, a Shakespearian production or other well choreographed and rehearsed musical production. The dress code for attending the evening performances is ‘elegantly-casual’ unless otherwise stipulated.
For the daytime and afternoon performances visitors are encouraged to ‘come-as-you-are’ and tour the facilities at leisure. A coffee shop with a sizeable seating area opened in 1976. The lobby is a nice location to sit and ‘gather your thoughts’ during the busy day.
For details of upcoming performances contact the National Theatre by calling, (506) 2010-1111 or visit their website at Teatro Nacional.
The ‘Little Theatre Group’ of Costa Rica’, (LTG) has been performing in Central and South America for over 64 years. They are a non-profit organization that offers the Costa Rican theatregoers quality English-language productions, in one of the over 15 theatres in San Jose. Teatro Nacional (National Theatre) and Teatro Laurence Olivier are regular show venues, some locations offer dinner and a show, creating an opportunity for an elegant evening on the town.
Some of the many theatres located in the Central Valley are: