by Mgr. Michaela Mojžišová, PhD.
Although Slovak theatrical life is usually dated from 1 March 1920 – the date of the first performance by the newly-established Slovak National Theatre (SND) – opera already had held a position in the cultural life in the territory of Slovakia in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 18th century it became a favourite part of the repertoire in the private theatres of aristocratic families. The most important of these were the Bratislava theatres of the opera lovers Count Mikuláš Eszterházy and Ján Erdödy, but the theatres of the Grassalkovich, Pálffy and Braunschweig families, in Ivanka pri Dunaji, Bratislava and Dolná Krupá respectively, also played a significant role. The highlight of this period was the premiere of Haydn’s opera La Canterina, which Count Eszterházy staged in 1767 in honour of a visit by Empress Maria Theresa to Bratislava.
Opera productions in Bratislava in the 18th century were performed by Italian, Hungarian and German theatre groups. The private Erdödy company played a leading role with a repertoire oriented mainly towards Italian opera buffa and opera seria and Viennese singspiel. One of the most important events at the end of the 18th century was a performance of W. A. Mozart’s ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ just three years after its first appearance.
The first theatre in Bratislava to function as a city theatre was built in the 1760s on Hlavné Namestie, the main square, in the house Grünes Stübel (Green Room). A permanent city theatre was finally opened in 1776. This was the first stone-built theatre in Upper Hungary. Count Juraj Csáky organised the construction at his own expense, with the city providing the land and stone for the foundations. The interior was decorated by Viennese painter Fanti and Count Csáky had the theatre machinery constructed in Vienna. The building underwent reconstruction in 1861 but it was demolished in 1884 because of problems with its operation and in particular safety. Construction of the new City Theatre building, which became the home of the Slovak National Theatre in 1920, began in 1885 based on the plans by the architects Herman Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner. The theatre opened with a gala performance of Ferenc Erkel’s opera Bánk Bán by a company from Budapest under the composer’s baton.
The city of Košice has been the country’s second centre of culture since the 17th century. In 1789 the City Theatre became the sixth theatre to be built in Hungary. Its auditorium could hold nearly a thousand spectators, and Hungarian and German theatre groups performed there. The building was demolished in 1894. In the years 1897-1899 a new theatre was built on the site based on the designs of the architect Adolf Lang. In 1924 it became the seat of the Východoslovenské národné divadlo (VSD, East Slovakia National Theatre). Since 1945 it has been known as the Štátne divadlo Košice (State Theatre of Košice).
At present three opera theatres function in Slovakia – the Slovak National Theatre (SND) in Bratislava (1920), the State Theatre, Košice (1945) and the State Opera, Banská Bystrica (1959), which prior to 1993 operated under the name Opera Divadla Jozefa Gregora Tajovského v Banskej Bystrici (Opera of the Jozef Gregor Tajovsky Theatre in Banská Bystrica). In the years 1986-1998 there was also a company in Bratislava called Komorná Opera (Chamber Opera) whose focus was the staging of works outside the mainstream of the opera repertoire – compositions of the pre-Romantic period, classical chamber works of the 20th century and seldom-performed works by composers of pre-Verdi bel canto.