The distinctly neo-classical building that is now the Latvian National Opera and home to the Latvian National Opera and Ballet was designed by St Petersburg architect Ludwig Bohnstedt and built in 1863 as the Riga German Theatre, a German language theatre. A Russian language theatre, the Latvian National Theatre opened in 1902. At this time Latvia was part of the Russian Empire and German traders predominated in the business and financial life of the city, hence the need for Russian and German theatres.
Dating back to the 1700s, there has been a blossoming and quality national opera scene in Riga with shows taking place at various venues. Mozart’s opera “The abduction from the Seraglio” was staged in Riga in 1785 while “The Magic Flute” was performed in 1797, just a few years following their premieres in Vienna.
The Latvian National Opera Company was founded in 1912 but was evacuated to Russia for the duration of WWI. It was re-established in Riga soon after independence, from Russia, was declared in 1918 and took over this theatre in 1919 (being based in the Latvian National Theatre for a short while before this). The Opera’s first performance here was Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” on January 23, 1919. Wagner had been the musical director at the German Theatre from 1837 to 1839.
In 1922 the opera company was joined by the Latvian Ballet. The Latvian Chorus and Orchestra joined the ensemble at a later date.
During the Soviet Union’s post WWII occupation of Latvia the Latvian National Opera became the Latvian S.S.R. State Opera and Ballet Theatre. It was renamed to the Latvian National Opera in 1990 and completely refurbished after this.
The theatre, often referred to as Riga’s ‘White House’, is located in stunning gardens, on the banks of the canal, themselves worth a stroll to admire the flowerbeds, manicured lawns, a wonderful fountain (the Nymph of Riga, dating back to 1888) and a couple of sculptures upon which I have written separate reviews – the Maris Liepa Monument and An Englishman in Riga.
One thing that particularly caught my attention when admiring the exterior of the theatre was the large chimney tower to the left of the main building. It transpires that the theatre was one of the first buildings in Riga to have electricity, installed in 1882 after a fire which caused major damage to the original building, and the chimney is a relic from the power station built to supply this electricity to the theatre.
Unfortunately my visit did not coincide with the show “season” which runs from September to June and as such I didn’t get to see, what by all accounts, would have been a quality show at a very reasonable price. Something for next time.