The National Theatre of Costa Rica is a public institution created by the coffee exporting companies in the country, and it contains many different styles. This valuable infrastructure is currently considered a National Monument. It tells the history of the country like no other, from its beauty to the racial injustice by their European colonisers.
The construction of the building started on May 28 of 1890. Every year, a great variety of shows and dramatized tours are offered by professionals who embody historical and fictional characters, which provides the visitor with a more playful experience. The interior of the grand building can only be described as eclectic. There is a mix of Spanish, French and Italian art of different influences.
The Theatre is entered through wrought iron gates and between gardens. Three statues crown the façade, which represent dance on the right, fame in the centre and music on the left by the Italian sculptor Pietro Bulgarelli. This is one of the many artists that the coffee exporters, all European descendants, hired from many western countries. The origin of the art in a monument intended to celebrate Costa Rica says a lot about the colonial mentality involved in the development of central America. Although the art came from abroad, the Renaissance style facade is built by the work of Costa Ricans.
In addition to the statues of Pietro, the facade is adorned with neoclassical statues, of the Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca on the left, and on the right that of the German composer Ludwing van Beethoven. The statues are works of the Italian artist Adriatico Froli. The sculpture of the flutist by Jorge Jiménez Deredia stands out for its modernist type.
In the Pompeian style Lobby, a piece surrounded by the idealistic sculptures of white colonisers the sculpture “Heroes of Misery”, made by the Costa Rican Juán Ramón Bonilla stands out. The sculpture celebrates the sacrifice of the Costa Rican working class to build the theatre by paying the high taxes necessary to afford the Imported luxurious interior.
Once in the hall, the statues that represent the Comedy and the Tragedy of the Genoese sculptor Pietro Capurro are in there. Inside the second hall, the marble staircases stand out, leading to the upper floor and the Foyer. The decoration and gold plating of the lamps adorned with cupid sculptures and chandeliers stand out, both in bronze and the stands are made of marble. On the walls of its sides are the medallions of flowers and tropical fruits by Pablo Sierra.
The central ceiling piece on is the image that was also depicted in the old bill of 5 colones until 1971. Presents the effigy of President Rafael Yglesias Castro and the mural “Allegory of coffee and bananas” made by the Italian Aleardo Villa. Although it’s supposed to portray the beauty of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, with women picking coffee beans and bananas. However, this is a quite idealised and white-washed image of the country.
The coffee pickers do so in a way that looks nothing like it’s supposed to, and the women in the painting all have olive skin and clothes that belong in a landscape of an Italian city. The bananas in the picture grow from the wrong side, as in reality, they grow upside-down. This comes as no surprise when we learn that the artist had never been in Costa Rica at all. “Costa Rican nationals, or “Ticos”, notice these details straight away, as this looks nothing like the country they grew up in” says Johnny Vargas Hernandez, Ticket Office Manager and theatre guide. At the entrance of the second floor there are three medallions that symbolise Commerce, Art and Industry made by the Spaniard Tomás Povedano.
The Foyer is for many the most beautiful place in the Theatre. Among the highlights is its precious wood floor coming from the Costa Rican rainforests, one of the few left due to the ban of wood production in protected areas. Today, at the entrance to the Foyer you can see the original statue of Fame that until 1991 crowned the facade of the theatre but, like the other two, had to be replaced because it was being affected by environmental pollution.
The auditorium of the National Theatre owes its style to the 19th century opera house. The ceiling displays a masterpiece by the Italian painter Roberto Fontana, made in 1897. A huge chandelier hangs from the centre. Finally, the floor has a mechanism that allows it to be raised to stage level to be used for receptions or conferences.
The eclectic mix of Latin- American elements and European crafts along with the multitude of styles used, reflect the Costa Rican culture perfectly. Both the good and the bad. The fact that the government preserved this building and educate people in the origins of it leaves visitors not only admiring the architecture and the art, but also reflecting on the effects of colonisation in Central America.