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Virgil Pop


A Century of Performance in Cluj


     In the second half of the nineteenth century, the improvement in the living standards of the middle bourgeoisie opened up an appetite for entertainment and recreation. In this context, we can witness in Europe the outstanding development of the entertainment consumer. In Paris, especially in Montmartre, entertainment theatres multiplied like mushrooms after the rain and in Vienna the theatres from the suburbs overtook those in the "Inner City Center"1. These new theatres supplemented those already in existence and frequented by the social elite. Even in provincial cities, the bourgeoisie wanted their own stages. Due to the fact that going regularly to performances became a fashionable activity, the big European cities provided buildings to meet this new need. Paris, during its restructuring process initiated by Baron Haussmann, built a new opera. The contest organized for the building of the new opera attracted 171 participants. The winner was Charles Garnier, holder of the much coveted Prix de Rome, although unknown up until then2. The theatre was built in the Italian style, with larger corridors and an entrance room. The main lobby had stairs which divided into two symmetrical flights, called imperial stairs, and the first floor waiting room had balconies with sloped consoles in order to allow a view of the ceremonial stairs to as many spectators as possible. The architect, who became famous after this project, sensed that the real spectacle would be in the lobby. The architectural language used was that of an over decorated classicism3. In this way, Garnier created the "Napoleon III" style and further, managed to create a new kind of theatre that spread throughout Europe until the beginning of the First World War.


     The other important capital of Europe, Vienna, was in the full process of renewal, and built an opera called, at first, the Hof-Oper. A contest was organized in this case also and was won by Eduard van der Nüll (1812-1868) and August Sicard von Sicardsburg (1813-1868). Neither lived long enough to see the opening ceremony in 1869. Here, as well, the functional organization of the architectural plan was dominated by the foyer which was extended over the vestibule by a neo-renaissance loggia. The eclectic architectural language and the excessive decoration are characteristics of the building. The loggia was, in fact, a change made during the construction as a result of countless critics of the project who considered that it lacked monumentality. A few decades later, this style would be mocked as being "Ringstrassestil".


     Even in the provincial cities of the Empire, the bourgeoisie dreamed of a venue for performances and especially for meetings. For those who wanted to build a theatre quickly, there seemed to be only one solution: the Viennese company, Fellner & Helmer. The building of theatres flourished throughout Europe from Hamburg to Odessa, from Szeged to Zürich, from Budapest to Prague, from Baden to Zagreb, from Iaşi to Oradea and Cluj. In almost all European cities, drama theatres, opera theatres and, especially, variety theatres were built. The focus was on the functionality of the buildings, that they accomplish their representative role, that they be fire-proof, and most of the time, that they be built quickly, in response to a moment to be commemorated or a royal or imperial visit to be inaugurated.


     The company Fellner & Helmer from Vienna built 48 theatres across Europe. The most eastern point reached by the company was Odessa. Ferdinand Fellner (b. 1847, Vienna - d. 1916, Vienna) was the typical architect of the "Ringstrasse" period. His father, an architect himself, specialized in theatre buildings and constructed the Thalia Theatre in Vienna. The younger Fellner had barely started his career when Ferdinand senior died, leaving Ferdinand junior to take on his father's company while very young. Hermann Helmer was born in Hamburg in 1849 and lived in Vienna until 1919. He attended the School of Crafts as a stonecutter, studying design as well. În 1868 he joined Fellner's company as a designer, and in 1873 he founded the company Fellner & Helmer, which Wolfgang Ludwig called the "Theatre Factory"4. After the death of the two associated architects, the company, already famous worldwide, was taken on by Helmer'son. However, by the beginning of the 20s, the golden age of theatre had already passed and the company was shut down in 1920.