Tourists flock to the theater

National Theater
National Theater

Visitors to Costa Rica expect to see stunning natural beauty, but it is also home to a thriving arts community of musicians, actors, dancers, and visual artists. To experience the heart of Costa Rica culture, a visit to a local theater is in order. Tourists can watch a play, attend a concert, or take in a dance performance, all great ways to immerse oneself in the local arts scene.

San José

To experience the best theater and arts that Costa Rica can offer, a trip to the capital city, San José, is in order. This lovely, historic city was founded in 1738 and is full of fine architecture and interesting buildings. Visitors can take in Costa Rica Museums, shop at farmers markets, and attend the theater. Fine local dining is easy to find with innovative and traditional restaurants serving delicious dishes daily.

There are two major theaters in San José, both of which are worth a visit. The National Theater of Costa Rica, is the city's crown jewel. The Teatro Popular Melico Salazar is another venue for important cultural events. Costa Rica is justifiably proud of these two theaters.

The National Theatre

Construction on this theater was begun in 1891, a time in Costa Rican history when coffee was king. The coffee barons were aware that their city lacked a proper theater and desired to build one. First, a tax was imposed on exported coffee to pay for construction. Later, a general tax was added to finish the building.

Inspired by the theaters of Europe, and specifically the Paris Opera House, the National Theater is an opulent example of the Belle Époque. Beautiful ceiling paintings, gilded crown moldings, Italian marble statues, and majestic staircases are just a few of the wonders that await visitors. It's free to visit the lobby, but anyone wanting to see the rest of the building will need to pay for a guided tour.

The best way to see the National Theater is to attend a performance. It is the home of the Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra, which gives concerts regularly. Plays, operas, lectures, and performances by traveling tour groups also are held here. There is something for everyone at the National Theater.

The Melico Salazar Theater

While not quite as opulent as its National Theater cousin just two blocks away, the Melico Salazar Theater is a historic gem in its own right. Originally built in 1799, it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1828. It was soon rebuilt and was staging regular performances until 1849 when it was commandeered as a base for army operations.

In 1918 the theater was converted to a boys' school. This ended in 1924 when another earthquake struck San José and the building was rendered structurally unsound. A new building was then built by José Raventos, called The Raventos Theater. It remained open until 1967 when a fire destroyed the theater's interior.

After restoring the building to its pre-fire grandeur, the theater was renamed the Popular Theater. In 1980 Melico Salazar was added to the name in honor of the famous Costa Rican tenor. The Teatro Popular Melico Salazar Theater stands today as a fine performing venue for arts of all kinds.

Other Theaters

San José is also home to many smaller theaters, such as the Teatro Variedades and the Teatro Eugene O'Neill, all staging creative works by international artists and Costa Rican playwrights alike. Tourists can enjoy comedy, drama, mime, avant-garde, theater in the round, and puppet theater. Classics and new works are performed daily throughout the city. Music and dance are also prominently featured in the local theaters, and a delightful evening awaits the visitor who attends.

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