The Národní Divadlo or the National Theatre in Prague is a very famous building which has been very important for more than 150 years for the culture of Czech history.
In the middle of the 19th century there were a lot of political changes in Europe. Prague had been part of the Austrian Empire. The official language was German. Bohemia (which included Prague) and Moravia now form the area of the Czech Republic. In the 19th century the Czechs in these areas wanted to be able to put on plays and operas in the Czech language. The National Theatre was built at a time when this was starting to become possible.
The National Theatre was built because the Czech people wanted their own national identity. The first stone was laid on May 16, 1868. It was opened on June 11 1881 to honour the visit of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. Another 11 performances were given after that. Then the theatre was closed down to finish the building. While people were working to finish it a fire broke out on August 12 1881 which destroyed most of it. However, a lot of money was found and it was built again and opened on November 18 1883 with a performance of Smetana’s opera Libuše which he had composed for this occasion. The story of the opera is based on a mythological story about how Prague began.
It was an excellent theatre, and it was not until 1977 that any more re-building was necessary. Then it was closed for six years, and opened again in time for the 100th anniversary of its opening: on November 18 1983. On that day again there was a performance of Smetana’s Libuše.
Today the National Theatre has three ensembles (groups of people): opera, ballet and drama. These ensembles all perform in the National Theatre, the Estates Theatre and the Theatre Kolowrat. They put on a lot of Czech plays and operas, but also productions from other parts of the world.