The theatre’s new-Renaissance building had a plain predecessor. In 1858, the management of the Estates Theatre hired a land plot a little above today’s theatre, and architect Josef Niklas built a New Town Theatre there. It was also called In front of the Horses’ Gate, which was still standing back then. Czech plays were regularly staged here, with actors from the Estates and later also from the Provisional Theatre. On the 16th May 1868, when the foundation stone was laid to the National Theatre, New Town Theatre staged Smetana’s Dalibor for the first time, personally conducted by the composer. New Town Theatre was in operation until 1885 and then it was demolished.
In 1886, architect Alfons Wertmüller started to build a new theatre according to plans of a well known Vienna company focusing on theatre construction, Fellner and Helmer. The German theatre association built and on the 5th January 1888 festively opened the New German Theatre, a representative scene for Prague citizens of German nationality. The opening performance was Richard Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. The theatre was mostly used for operas, and many celebrities sang here, e.g. Enrico Caruso; in 1910 they staged world premiere of Richard Strauss’ Electra here.
The building’s front is decorated with busts by sculptor Otto Mentzel (Goethe, Mozart, Schiller), and there are 13 sculptures in the frontispiece by Theodor Friedl – scenes from Antique mythology (Pegasus, Icarus, Cupid, Athena, Leda and others). In the theatre’s interior, there are busts of the artists – fascism victims: Josef Capek, Julius Fucík, Joe Jencík, Václav Jiríkovský, Rudolf Karel, Anna Letenská, Vít Nejedlý, Josef Skrivan, Oldrich Stibor, Bedrich Václavek, Vladislav Vancura, František Zelenka. In the middle, there is a sculpture of Bed?ich Smetana by Karel Lidický. There is also a memorial plaque with verses of Stanislav Kostka Neumann, dedicated to the memory of theatre actors who died during the fascist occupation. In the auditorium, there are paintings by Eduard Veith. When fascism got to power in Germany, the theatre played a progressive role in staging German artists pursued by the Nazis. During the occupation, the theatre operated under the name Deutsches Theatre. After 1945, the theatre became a Czech folks theatre named Theatre of the 5th May. On the 1st October 1945, Smetana’s opera Branibori v Cechách (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia) was staged here. Since 1946, only an opera ensemble has been operating in the theatre, under the name of Great Opera of the 5th May. In 1948, the Great Opera ensemble joined the group of the National Theatre and the building became its third scene, renamed to Smetana’s Theatre on the 3rd November 1949. Since the 1st April 1992, the theatre got a statute of an independent artistic institution named Prague State Opera. During the years 1967 – 1973, an extensive reconstruction of the theatre took place according to a project of architect Ji?í Albrecht. Since 1988, the facade has been modified, roofing has been replaced and the sculptural decorations on the front have been restored.
Information courtesy of praguewelcome.cz