The turn-of-the-century years, dominated as they were by the French style architecture of the Paris École des Beaux-Arts, nevertheless bring to Romania several architects who achieved fame in the German-speaking Europe. They will contribute in full to the “quality architecture” characteristic of the period. Thus, the architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, who, between 1873 and 1919, had built 48 theatres in Central Europe, were requested to complete four such buildings in Transylvania and the Old Kingdom. Three were built in Transylvania – in Timişoara, Oradea and Cluj – and one in Moldova, in Iaşi. All four are characteristic of the neoclassical architecture of the late 19th century. They have a symmetrical plan, with the entrance in the main axis through an outhouse protruding from the façade. The auditoria are horseshoe-shaped and arranged according to the Italian model – with a pit, boxes and balconies.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the two architects are assigned, without a contest, the project of the last theatre they would build in Transylvania, namely the Hungarian Theatre (now the National Theatre) in Cluj. Unlike the theatres previously built in Romania, which were eclectic par excellence, the Theatre in Cluj combines the decorative elements of the Renaissance and the Baroque with elements inspired by the Secession. (Mariana Croitoru, 2015)
1. Public buildings:
1885 – the Palace of Justice in Suceava;
1871-1875 – the “Franz Josef” Theatre in Timişoara* (now the National Theatre and Romanian Opera House);
1894 and 1896 – the National Theatre in Iaşi**;
21 July 1899-15 October 1900 – the State Theatre in Oradea*** (now the “Regina Maria” Theatre);
1904-1906 – the Hungarian Theatre in Cluj**** (now the National Theatre).
- Interiors of the Timişoara, Oradea, Iaşi and Cluj theatres, which are remarkable for their eclectic architecture.
*The oldest of the aforementioned buildings designed by the two Viennese architects. The plays staged here were in Hungarian or German. Of the four theatres, the one in Timişoara is the only one which has been preserved only in part, having been devastated by two great fires in 1880 and 1920, respectively. After the first fire, the rebuilding was based on the original plan (1880-1882), while after the second, the building went through some radical transformations. The reconstruction of the central part of the building was the responsibility of Duiliu Marcu between 1923 and 1928. The architect retained the lateral facades as well as the main one, the auditorium, with its sections for the audience, being rebuilt in the Neo-Byzantine style. Later on, between 1934 and 1936, it was still Duiliu Marcu who altered the front of the building in the modernist “King Carol II” style of fascist influence. In one of his books, Duiliu Marcu presents two plans and two sections of the auditorium in the “old theatre” as well as a photo of the main façade, the way it looked before 1920. The lateral facades are the original ones, with some restoration work. Inside, though, the spaces were rearranged and very few elements remain of the initial decoration.
**The second such building designed by the two Austrian architects Fellner and Helmer in Romania. By contrast to Transylvanian theatres, the plays staged in Iaşi were in Romanian. The trademark of this building is its interiors, which are veritable works of art. The ground floor hall, with its two symmetrical monumental staircases which lead to the open gallery on the first floor, is paved with white and red marble. The walls are Rococo, with a flurry of coloured and/or gilded stuccos and sculptures marking the entry to the auditorium. The auditorium as such is impressive in its abundance of Baroque and Rococo decorations and the refinement of their layout. The two curtains and the ceiling are the remarkable works of Viennese masters. The main curtain, made of canvas in 1896 by the Viennese craftsman M. Lenz and completed by one of his apprentices, has symbolic decorations at its centre and folk motifs on the sides. The iron curtain (against fire) and the ceiling are painted by Al. Goltz. The figures are nymphs and angels in a paradisiacal allegory. The ceiling above the orchestra pit is decorated with the united insignia of Moldavia, Wallachia, Transylvania and Dobruja, with the heraldic symbols of each province and, on the side, the royal insignia. At the centre of the ceiling there are a gilded triforium and a Venetian crystal chandelier with 109 light bulbs. After King Michael I abdicated, on 30th December, 1947, the royal insignia were removed, the only element still visible being the scepter.
***The construction works were led by a team of architects from Oradea - Kálmán Rimanóczy, Vilmos Rendes and Jozsef Guttman, who were also the entrepreneurs. Designed according to the same neoclassical principles, the two-level open portico emphasizes symmetry and borrows from the language of Greek temples – six Ionic columns which support the entablement and the triangular gable. The entrance is flanked by the allegorical statues representing Comedy and Tragedy, made in the Mayer workshop in Budapest. Specialized craftsmen from Oradea made the theatre’s interior decorations. The auditorium is built on three levels, with an orchestra pit. The balustrades of the boxes with balconies, arranged on two levels, are decorated with festoons, medallions and masks made of partly-gilded stucco. The richly ornate ceiling is dominated by the central gilded metal triforium and large lamp. The walls of the auditorium’s salons were initially decorated with green wallpaper, which was the dominant colour, while the furniture upholstery was cherry-red brocade. Here there were also four Gobelin tapestry panels, reproductions of paintings by Boucher found in the Louvre.
****It combines eclectic decorations with Secession-inspired elements. The building facilities as well as the interior finishing works were carried out by firms in Budapest. The interior is structured along the symmetrical lines which are characteristic of the entire building. The public’s access is made through the main entrance in the axis of the facade facing Stefan cel Mare Square, formerly Hunyadi Square. In the foyer’s axis, a monumental staircase splits on the mezzanine’s landing into two separate staircases leading to the first floor through an open gallery. In the spaces for the audience, in the foyer and galleries on the first floor, one notices excessive Baroque decorations in the form of richly gilded stuccos on the walls and ceilings, lamps and bronze plaques, mirrors with gilded frames. The flooring of the audience spaces, the staircases, the railings (the balusters and hand rail) are all made of marble. As regards the interior of the auditorium, one may remark the two rows of stage boxes and a spacious balcony on the upper level. The orchestra pit is also on the ground floor. The auditorium too is decorated in the Baroque style, visible on the walls and the stage box balustrades, on the ceiling and in the proscenium. The ceiling, which slants towards the proscenium arch, is decorated with a central rosette from which radiate four veins richly decorated with floral stuccos. The central chandelier was made by Ganz & Co. and it has been preserved to this day. The initial furniture largely disappeared, with the exception of the chairs on the balcony, which, nevertheless, cannot be dated with certainty. The heating of the auditorium is done through small orifices under the chairs, which allow warm air to be ventilated inside. The air is evacuated through the metal butterflies situated above the central chandelier, which open up directly into the theatre’s attic. The attic has circular skylights with metal sheet blinds. For a long time after it was built, the theatre remained one of the most modern in Transylvania.
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