It was natural for a city positioned at the intersection of large commercial routes connecting the country to Poland, to Russia and to the German lands, to host from time to time – together with merchants, carriers, foreign emissaries – the odd menagerie, circus, carnival or theatre troupe. At the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th century, the children of the aristocracy went to school in France, Germany or Italy. There they became acquainted with the much-appreciated “cultured theatre”. The trend caught on, and soon the first animator of art and culture in Moldavia, Gheorghe Asachi, staged, with the help of dilettantes from the Ghica and Sturza families, the first play in the Romanian language, "Mirtil şi Hloe", a one-act pastoral, adapted from the works of Gessner and Florian.
After the first performance in Romanian, staged by Gheorghe Asachi in the house of boyar Ghica, the shows put on by foreign troupes (from Italy, France, Russia) were held in specially-organised auditoria. The first such “playhouse” was organised in 1812 by an Italian called Gaetano Magi in a building owned by Lascarachi Agachi, a.k.a. ”Talpan”, (N. A. Bogdan – Oraşul Iaşi/The City of Iaşi, second edition, 1913).
In 1832, a French comedy and vaudeville troupe, directed by the Fouraux brothers, arrived in Iaşi and, finding Magi’s makeshift playhouse unavailable, turned Dr. Peretz’s house on Golia Street into a theatre. The playhouse was known under the name of ”Théâtre de varieté”. It is on this stage that, on April 10, 1834, Gheorghe Asachi put on a show in Romanian called "Serbarea păstorilor moldoveni" (“The Moldavian Shepherds’ Celebration”) and the “actors” were Gheorghe Asachi, Vasile Alecsandri, Matei Millo, Mihail Kogălniceanu, Al. Mavrocordat, N. Docan, Scarlat Vârnav and other sons of aristocrats.
It was also at the ”Théâtre de varietés” that the first shows of the National Theatre of Iaşi were staged until December 22, 1846. The National Theatre had been founded in 1840, under the direction of Costache Negruzzi, Vasile Alecsandri and Mihail Kogălniceanu (the manager of the Romanian troupe was Costache Caragiali). In December 1846 a new audience hall was inaugurated in the mansion of Mihail Sturza on the Hill of Copou, now a part of the St Spiridon Hospital Trust.
In the following seasons, the Romanian troupe underwent many changes, both in form and in contents, had progressive ideas, patriot actors, and writers supporting the revolutionary movement. The seasons 1849-1850, 1851 and 1852 were the seasons in which Matei Millo triumphed; the brilliant successes were followed, however, by administrative difficulties (frequent management changes) and by social crises (the cholera epidemic). In 1866, the Government instituted a 50 000 lei grant for the City Hall of Iaşi, on condition it undertake to manage the Moldavian Theatre; the disappointing results however, lead to the appointment of a professional manager, the actor N. Luchian, who hired Mihail Pascaly’s troupe from Bucharest to play at the National Theatre, together with the Iaşi actors.
The accumulated experience of the three National Theatres – of Iaşi, Bucharest and Craiova – resulted in a legal decision to turn them into Drama Societies (1877-1878).
The following period in the history of the Theatre was one of searches for a repertoire that would be suitable for its mission as a National Theatre, seen as a school for language, as an improver of morals and as an educator for the audience masses.
History of the new building
The history of the building of the National Theatre of Iaşi – which in 1956 was given the name of Vasile Alecsandri, poet, playwright and theatre promoter – is connected to an unfortunate event: the fire that destroyed the old Theatre on the Hill of Copou on the night of 17/18 February 1888.
The efforts to build the new theatre edifice culminated in 1894 when, at the insistence of the Mayor, of the City Council and of MP Miltiade Tzoni, a contract was signed with the Viennese architects Fellner and Helmer, who „until today have built over twenty theatres, true models of good taste and good organisation”: Vienna, Prague, Odessa, Mainz, Hamburg, Oradea, Darmstadt, Budapest, Timişoara, Augsburg, Cernăuţi, Carlsbad, Fiume, Pressburg, Szegedin, Cluj and Berlin.
For the building work, a contract was signed with a Bucharest company, and the power station and the boiler house were built by a company from Berlin. A noteworthy fact: it was from the Theatre’s power station that the first public lighting system was supplied with electricity (the 12 electric-arc lamps lighting the Theatre Square); this marked the beginning of electrification in the city of Iaşi. The works took two years, and on the 2nd of December 1896, during the grand opening, the keys of the playhouse were handed to the mayor, Nicolae Gane.
The inauguration festivities taking place on the 1st and the 2nd of December included the “National Overture” by Flechtenmacher, the vaudevilles „Muza de la Burdujeni” (“The Muse from Burdujeni”) by Costache Negruzzi and „Cinel-cinel” (“The Riddle”) by Vasile Alecsandri, as well as the verse comedy „Poetul romantic” (“The Romantic Poet”) by Matei Millo. The proceeds of the first night were distributed to the poor of the city, and those of the second night were given to the artists of the Iaşi Drama Society.
The Main Hall, with 750 seats, organised in stalls, boxes and a balcony, impresses through the refinement, originality and lavishness of its Rococo and Baroque inspired painted and sculpted ornaments.
The 1418 electric lights and the chandelier with 109 Venetian crystal lamps light up a playhouse with a unique architectural personality.
The main curtain, painted by the Viennese maestro Lenz and finished by one of his disciples, has in the middle an allegory of life with its three stages, and to the side a symbolic representation of the Union of Principalities; the left-hand side, painted by Lenz’s apprentice, differs from the rest of the curtain in style and colouring.
The ceiling and the iron curtain were painted by Alexander Goltz. The iron curtain shows ornaments placed symmetrically, while the ceiling, a real work of art, has as a narrative basis the Archetypal Story, shown in paradisiacal allegories, with nymphs and cupids framed in rococo stucco.
Above the orchestra pit, the ceiling displays the crest of the four reunited Romanian provinces, combining the heraldry of all four; from the royal coat-of-arms, located in a parallel plan, the most visible is the sceptre, the royal insignia being removed after the last king’s abdication.
The great names of the stage in Iaşi continue to live their destinies in the memory of the present: N. Luchian, Fanny Tardini, Mihail Pascaly, Mathilda Pascaly, Mihail Galino, Matei Millo, and, later on, Grigore Manolescu, Aristizza Romanescu, Agatha Bârsescu, Aglae Pruteanu.
The golden generation, a creator of milestones, has produced a following: actors Aurel Ghiţescu, Anny and Bruno Braeschi, George Popovici, Nicolae Şubă, Constantin Ramadan, Margareta Baciu, Marioara Davidoglu, Mihai Grosariu, Ştefan Dăncinescu, Costache Cadeschi, Costache Sava, Eliza Nicolau, Virginica Bălănescu, Miluţă Gheorghiu, Ion Lascăr, Carmen Barbu; directors Aurel Ion Maican, Ion Sava, George Mihail Zamfirescu and scenographer Theodor Kiriacoff.
Important personalities of the literary world have become involved in the activity of the National Theatre: A. D. Xenopol and Otilia Cazimir wrote theatre reviews and Garabet Ibraileanu was part of the reading committee. The talent and vocation as good leaders of this institution open towards universality was confirmed in the cases of Mihail Sadoveanu, Mihai Codreanu, Ionel Teodoreanu, Iorgu Iordan, George Topârceanu, Andrei Oţetea or N. I. Popa.
The troupe consists of 35 actors, 2 directors and 1 set designer, together with the managerial, administrative and technical departments and with numerous collaborators and guests for each theatre project. The number of opening nights per season varies (8-10 plays), the rest of the repertoire consisting of reruns of successful shows.
The repertoire, centred on the artistic value of the texts suggested, based on troupe-use criteria, following the directors’ offers and market tests, includes plays by classical and international playwrights, aiming at the same time to promote new Romanian authors.
Thus, the balance of such a repertoire shows the multidirectional orientation of the cultural message, which is no longer the exclusive prerogative of a formal framework, but creates increasingly diverse ways for public contact. The National Theatre of Iaşi aspires towards a modern language, which would satisfy the most diverse demands.