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The nation’s architectural showpiece, the Teatro Nacional (Avenida 2, Calles 3/5, tel. 506/221-94172221-3756, or 2221-5341 ticket office, www.teatronacional.go.cr, 9 a.m.–5 4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30–5 p.m. Sat., $37), on the south side of Plaza de la Cultura, is justifiably a source of national pride. The theater was conceived in 1890, when a European opera company featuring the prima donna Adelina Patti toured Central America but was unable to perform in Costa Rica because there was no suitable theater.
Jilted, the ruling cafeteleros (coffee barons) voted a tax on coffee exports to fund construction of a theater, and craftsmen from all over Europe were imported. It was inaugurated on October 21, 1897, to a performance of Faust by the Paris Opera.
Outside, the classical Renaissance facade is topped by statues (they’re replicas; the originals are inside) symbolizing Dance, Music, and Fame; note the figures of Beethoven and Spanish dramatist Calderón de la Barca to each side of the entrance.
Inside, the vestibule, done in pink marble, rivals the best of ancient Rome, with allegorical figures of Comedy and Tragedy, stunning murals depicting themes in Costa Rican life and commerce, and a triptych ceiling supported by six-meter-tall marble columns topped with bronze capitals; a ceiling mural to the rear by Italian artist Aleardo Villa shows an allegorical coffee and banana harvest.
Art and good taste are lavishly displayed on the marble staircase, with its gold-laminated ornaments sparkling beneath bronze chandeliers and in the upstairs foyer. A grandiose rotunda painted in Milan in 1897 by Arturo Fontana highlights the three-story auditorium, designed in a perfect horseshoe and seating 1,040 in divine splendor. The auditorium floor was designed to be raised to stage level by a manual winch so the theater could be used as a ballroom.
Guided tours are offered.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition