José Martí: Theater: A Historical Scene
By: Rosa María González López, Photos by: Emilio Herrera and Prensa Latina Archives
It is difficult to think of a city or capital of any country without its theater, a place that offers a necessary escape; that public place whose origins go back in time, and to which one comes as spectator or accomplice, or both…a place that is a witness of events withstood by the life and culture of its people.
The Martí Theater, the emblematic and symbolic ‘coliseum of a hundred doors’, shared its existence with generations from Havana for over a century. Today, after more than 30 years, it returns to lift the spirits of the city as well as those who inhabit or travel through her.
Saving and bringing back the Theater has been the work of the Office of the City Historian of Havana, an institution
responsible for the restoration and conservation of the hereditary values of the Cuban nation.
In its beginnings the Theater was called Irijoa, name of the Galician who invested and believed in its construction, and opened its doors on June, 1884. Upon Irijoa´s death, the Theater was registered as Eden Garden, but only held this name for a short time as in 1899, with the end of the War of Independence, Cubans wanted to pay homage to the worthy José Martí and re-baptized it as the José Martí Theater.
It was a theater with a very varied repertoire, where some people came to watch light and popular pieces, while others insisted on the most refined entertainment. Released here were Cuban as well as international works.
Puccini´s Tosca opera remainded a top favourite for weeks; the same happened with The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, and with The Respectful Prostitute work of Jean Paul Sarte.
Also with success were presented for periods at a time Cecilia Valdés, a classic of the Cuban theater, Rosa la China and Amalia Batista and many other works of the great names, Gonzalo Roig, Rodrigo Prats, Ernesto Lecuona, Jorge Anckermann and Eliseo Grenet. In February, 1935 for the first time at Martí Theater, the unique Rita Montaner came to the stage.
The roguish Spaniard harmonized onstage with African charm, and with the humor that characterizes all that is “Cuban”. The most serious events of a whole era were also part of the presentation; the Negro, the Galician and the Mulatto invaded the theatrical ambience.
Martí was the theater of the operas, operettas and vaudevilles; but also that of comedies, circus acts and up to that of the cinematograph.
There were many successful periods, alternating with both foreign and national companies, but there were also box office failures. In its show business page, the Press reserved space for the Martí Theater stage, and with its critics, sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, through their comments informed the public about a function which, although known, was always surprising.
The Martí Theater was not only a place for the scenic arts, music and other cultural aspects; within its walls had lived witnesses of important historical events led by the Cuban nation. In November, 1900 it held the Constituent Assembly and its debates of the Platt Amendment, the ignominious stipulation that the North American Government added to the Constitution, giving itself the right to intervene in the Cuban people´s internal matters.
For its presence and significance in historical values and events since the 30s of the last century, the José Martí Theater is a National Monument.
Today, when this respectfully restored building opens its doors with its premiere, Havana´s inhabitants and all those who appreciate culture will wait with joy and
anticipation for the three strikes of the bell.