/ enMain menu 
Navigation:  Theatre Database

The Slovene National Theatre Opera and Ballet Ljubljana

alias The Carniola Provincial Theatre (1892 - 1919)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1889 | The architect was chosen
Jan Vladimir Hraský (1857–1939) was chosen to create a plan and he tackled the project with the help of the architect Anton J. Hrubý who came in Ljubljana as an employee of the company Fellner & Helmer.
(detail)1890 | The building contractors were selected

The construction works were carried out by the Ljubljana building firm Gustav Tönniens, and the stonecutting by the local craftsmen Srečko and Peter Tomen and Vinko Čamernik. More demanding construction works were done mostly by Viennese firms.

The main façade was created chiefly under the influence of the Vienna architecture of the time and the firm Fellner & Helmer.

Some of the statues that decorate the exterior were created by Alojzij Gang, the most prominent Slovene sculptor at the time. The ceiling were paited by Viennese painter Čeh, and the main curtain by Adolf Liebscherl from Prague. The foyer was decorated by the painter Heinrich Wettach.

(detail)29. 9. 1892 | The opening performance
The opening performance was the tragedy Veronika Deseniška by Josip Jurčič.
(detail)1918 | The opera orchestra was founded
The orchestra was enlarged in 1925.
(detail)1919 | The building becomes the base for the central Slovene opera and ballet company
A year later, in 1920, management iss taken on by the state.
(detail)1940 | Thorough renovation
Around 1940, the building was thoroughly renovated. A long, narrow extension with a ballet hall was added at the back, thus increasing the area next to the stage, which was renovated at the same time.
(detail)1998 | The conceptual plans for reconstruction were created

(detail)2003 | The implementation plans for remodeling were created
The plans were created by the arhitects Jurij Kobe and Marjan Zupanc.
(detail)2008 | The beginning of the reconstruction
The reconstruction is planned to be completed in 2009.



The Carniola Provincial Theatre was one of a number of important public buildings constructed in Ljubljana prior to the 1895 earthquake. The building which today houses the Slovene National Theatre Opera and Ballet Ljubljana, together with other buildings nearby (the National Museum, the Narodni dom and the Philharmonic) that were built at roughly the same time, is a result of a period when Ljubljana was increasingly taking on the role of the political and cultural centre of the Slovene nation. The main reason for the appearance of the theatre building was the destruction of the theatre known as the Stanovsko gledališče in a fire on 17 February 1887. After the fire, the town authorities began to look for a different location for a new theatre intended to be of impressive appearance and fire safe. This is why it was thought that the new location should be on the edge of the densely built town centre and that it should be carefully selected as this was to be the first completely new and purpose built theatre building in Ljubljana. Initially, locations on the edge of Zvezda Park or in the vicinity of the building known as Kolizej were in play. But in 1888 the Provincial Committee successfully applied to the town administration for a location in the middle of Franz Joseph Square, presently Krekov trg. In 1890, just before construction work was supposed to begin, a plot of land near the building belonging to the Provincial Rudolfinum Museum was bought from its previous private owner Meyer. The selection of the location and the architects was greatly influenced by individuals in the Slovene political and cultural spheres, in particular the Mayor of Ljubljana Ivan Hribar.


Immediately after the fire, upon their own initiative, the former owners of boxes in the Stanovsko gledališče had begun discussions with the Celje architect Vladimir Walter about plans for a new theatre that would stand on the site of the burnt-out building. In 1887 Walter produced two unrealised plans, now kept in the Slovenian National Theatre Museum. The first variant envisaged that the new building would be built on the site of the old one. Due to the narrowness of the site the new building would give the impression of being disproportionately tall. It would have a small entrance hall with two impressive wide staircases at the side, a semi-circularly finished auditorium and a relatively small stage, surrounded on three sides by auxiliary premises and vertical communications. The second variant envisaged the building being located in ZvezdaPark. There it would be possible to build a considerably wider building with a monumental frontage. The basic design of the second variant was similar to the first, the only difference being that the architect, due to the fact that there was more space available, placed a staircase at the front and also planned a larger stage, as well as auxiliary premises in the wings that would stick out considerably. According to this variant, the back of the building would have an emphasised transversal wing.


In 1888, a plan for a new theatre was created also by Georg Hladnig, an architect living in Vienna. His version envisaged the building of a large vestibule with two staircases comprised of two flights of stairs at the sides, a semi-circular auditorium and a stage with auxiliary premises in the wings. The building was designed to have a ground floor plan in the shape of a letter T. The design was rather clumsy and almost completely subjected to orthogonal geometry. Hladnig’s plan was never seriously considered.


The representatives of the Carniolan Provincial Assembly as early as in 1887 entrusted the creation of the plans to the provincial building office and its engineer Jan Vladimir Hraský (1857–1939). In 1888, the Provincial Committee members appointed the two architects Walter and Hraský for the design of the project. In late 1888 they both travelled to Vienna, Prague and Brno in order to become acquainted with the most recent theatre buildings. In cooperation with Hraský, Walter was expected to create a plan within three months, but this did not happen. In 1889, Hraský alone was chosen to create a plan and he tackled the project with the help of the architect Anton J. Hrubý, who came to Ljubljana as an employee of the company Fellner & Helmer of Vienna, then the most reputable institution involved in the planning of theatre buildings in the Habsburg monarchy and Central Europe. The company approved Hraský’s and Hrubý’s plan as suitable, but proposed a few changes intended to improve the auditorium's aesthetic, visual-acoustic and functional aspects. Due to limited financial resources Hraský and Hrubý had to reduce the size of the planned building and adapt it appropriately; the height of the auditorium was reduced by one level, the number of boxes was decreased, the monumental staircase with a large entrance hall was abandoned and the planned extensive frontage was scaled down. The plans were drawn up on the basis of the assumption that the theatre was going to be built on the present-day Krekov trg; the large building would take up more or less the whole of the square. When yet another location was chosen between the present day streets Cankarjeva and Tomšičeva, the plans were not considerably altered, but attempts were made to create around  the building green areas and an area planted with yews so that it would blend better into its environs.


In July 1890, after a public call for tenders, the building contractors were selected and the theatre building was completed by the autumn 1892. The project was financed by the Province of Carniola, the Ljubljana Town Municipality and the Carniolan Savings Bank. The building work was carried out by the Ljubljana firm Gustav Tönniens, whilst stonecutting tasks were performed by the local craftsmen Srečko and Peter Toman, Vinko Čamernik and Alojzij Vodnik. Some more demanding tasks, such as the design of the metal construction of the roof, the boxes and the gallery, and the heating and airing systems, were carried out by foreign, in particular Viennese firms. Due to the lack of funds, it was decided that gas lighting would be installed instead of electric. The exterior design indicated to a large extent the functional arrangement of the interior. The main façade was created chiefly under the influence of the Vienna architecture of the time and the firm Fellner & Helmer. The ground floor plan was comparable primarily to the theatre in Rijeka that had also been designed by Fellner & Helmer. When designing the auditorium and stage, the architects mainly followed the example of the second Semperoper in Dresden. The building in Ljubljana is a somewhat more modest typological example of the theatre buildings created at that time throughout the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, as well as in a wider area, all following the plans by Fellner & Helmer. By European standards, the Ljubljana building does not fall within the best and most original theatre architecture from the late 19th century, but nonetheless it shows the great artistic ambitions of those who commissioned it and the solidity of the construction work. After the completion of the work, the architect Anton J. Hruby went to Zagreb and until 1895 led the building of the theatre there, on the basis of a plan created by the architects Ferdinand Fellner and Herman Helmer.


The symmetrical frontage of the new Carniolan Provincial Theatre was on a semi-circular ground plan. The central axis with the main entrance is emphasised with a three-axial risalit and an impressive triangular tympanum, resting on semi-columns with Ionic capitals. At the sides, the frontage is emphasised with two tower-like risalits with side exits from the auditorium. The exterior features Neo-Renaissance and Classicist elements. The ground floor stretch of the wall is rusticated, whilst the upper section features shallow pilasters. The risalits are emphasised with semi-columns. The top section of the façade ends in a console cornice. The two side facades between the side risalits and the stage section repeat the reduced motif of the central risalit with three semi-circular openings. The stage tower was covered by a ridged roof and is nearly twice the height of the auditorium, but in spite of this prior to the last alteration it seemed fairly low from the outside. The back wall façade was initially emphasised with two single axial risalits with triangular gables and pilasters. In the centre, there was a large door that was used for the transfer of sets to the stage. Only the front of the building has been preserved in its original form. Through the main portal one enters the entrance hall with a trapezoid ground floor plan, on both sides of which two impressive, slightly curved staircases with two flights of stairs lead to the arched corridors behind the surrounding wall. The auditorium is built in horseshoe shape, which gives the rounded shape to the whole front section of the building. It encompasses gently inclined stalls, boxes on two levels and a gallery above. The boxes on the upper level are separated by richly ornamented volutes. The parapets of the boxes and the gallery are also ornamented. The ceiling has the shape of a shallow cone and in the middle is a large round opening for ventilation. It is divided into six sections with painted female allegoric figures.  The auditorium opens to the stage with a rectangular opening with rounded top corners. In front of the opening is an orchestra pit, which curves slightly towards the stalls. In the stage wings there are auxiliary premises for actors and two smaller staircases comprised of two flights of stairs. Due to the lack of money, the theatre had no backstage space.


The decorative elements and the furnishing were mostly carried out by specialised Austrian and Czech contractors. Among local artists, only Alojzij Gangl, the most prominent Slovene sculptor of the time, was commissioned in 1891. In 1892, for the two niches in the façade, he created sandstone figures of Comedy and Tragedy and for the top of the central risalit, using Istrian lime, an allegory of Genius with a clothed, dark Drama and a naked, friendly Opera. This group sculpture is still considered one of the best figural compositions created as an artistic architectural enhancement in Slovenia. The sculptured decorations in the triangular tympanum of the central risalit and most of the other sculpted ornaments on the building were created between 1891 and 1893 by the Viennese firm Fischer, Haselsteiner & Bock; in the triangular tympanum there is a relief featuring the emblems of dramatic art, two sitting putti and two female figures; Poetry is depicted in the shape of an eagle and Fame as a trumpet. The sides of the tympanum are additionally emphasised by two griffons, whilst on the jutting roof of the side risalits there are four sculptures of putti, representing Acting, Singing, Comedy and Tragedy. Underneath them there are two pairs of similar female figures with a mask and lyre and four medallions, symbolising Epic, Tragedy, Opera and Operetta. The empty fields in the central risalit and the side facades have been filled with rich stucco work. The top of the stage tower was emphasised with a sculpture of a lyre. Inside, the Viennese painter Čeh painted on the ceiling allegoric female figures and a freize above the proscenium. The Prague painter Adolf Liebscherl depicted on the now lost main curtain a scene entitled Carniola Bowing to Art. The foyer was decorated by the painter Heinrich Wettach. The artistic decoration of the building remained unfinished and in 1901 the theatre leadership planned the completion of the decoration work with the help of Slovene artists; letters have survived from the painters Ferdo Vesel, Ivana Kobilica, Anton Ažbe, Alojz Šubic and Simon Ogrin, who expressed a desire to paint the curtain, but the proposals were never realised.


The Provincial Theatre was festively open on 29 September 1892 with a performance of Jurčič’s tragedy Veronika Deseniška. The building was the first of its kind in Slovenia that was from the very beginning intended for the staging of theatre performances in the Slovene language and took on the role of the central Slovene national theatre. Its construction had considerable significance for national awakening. The selection of a Czech architect was an expression of the general conditions in Slovene art and culture in the late 19th century, when belief in the liberational role of pan-Slavism was significant. Just as in other spheres, in architecture Slovenes looked for inspiration mainly to the Slavic world. For a few years the Slovene theatre had to share the building with the German theatre; backstage was divided in such a way that the southern section was used by Slovenes and the northern by Germans. Rehearsal premises and the stage were shared. Thus in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries two theatres officially shared the building: the German Theatre and the Slovene Provincial Theatre plus opera. The Slovene theatre engaged permanent conductors, soloists and a choir. Until 1902, when the Slovene Philharmonic was founded, operas were accompanied by the musicians of the 17th (Carniolan) and 27th (Styrian) infantry regiment of the royal imperial army. After 1911, when a new building was constructed for the German theatre, the Provincial Theatre became fully Slovene. After the First World War in 1919, the building became the base for the central Slovene opera and ballet company. In 1920, management was taken on by the state. Alongside the opera house in Zagreb and Belgrade, the Ljubljana theatre building became the home of one of three central opera companies in the new state of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The opera orchestra was founded in 1918 and enlarged in 1925. New singers joined the chorus that consisted mostly of Slovene singers. They performed mainly French and Italian operas, with an emphasis also on Slavic and Slovene operatic works. Between the two World Wars, the opera modernised its repertoire and staged a series of successful operas written by Slovene composers.


Around 1940, the building needed a thorough renovation. A long, narrow extension with a ballet hall was added at the back, thus increasing the area next to the stage, which was renovated at the same time. The extension obscured the original structuring of the façade, whilst its shape was influenced by an older town villa, standing west of the theatre. At the same time a metal projecting roof resting on four thin columns was erected in front of the main entrance.


After the Second World War, for political reasons, Gangl’s group of sculptures with the winged Genius, which reminded some people of angels, was removed. The sculpture that had been partly damaged in the 1895 earthquake was in 1956, still damaged, placed in the renovated complex of the former monastery of the Teutonic Knights. In 1982, a polyester cast of the sculpture was once more put on the theatre building.


In 1925, the busts of two doyens of Slovene theatre, the director Anton Verovšek (1866–1914) and the actor Ignacij Borštnik (1858–1919), were put on two pedestals. The sculptures were made in 1921 by the sculptor France Kralj. In 1991, the sculptures along the northern façade were joined by the monument to the singer and musical teacher Julij Betetto (1885–1963). It was created by the sculptor Stojan Batič and then transferred from a bronze cast to stone by the sculptor Julijan Renko. The pedestal with a volute decorative motif and a herm was made by the stonecutter Boris Udovič, on the basis of the plans by the architect Marko Mušič. A Post-Modernist portico was erected above the sculpture, supported by three slim columns with spheres at the top.


Since the 1970s, a number of proposals for a renovation and enlargement of the building have been put forward. The main reason was that the building was first built for a town with approximately 30,000 inhabitants, but as this number grew, the building could no longer provide the necessary conditions for opera and ballet performances. Those who know the history of the building mostly opposed its extensive alteration and strove for the building of a brand new theatre in which it would be possible to provide completely suitable premises for the central Slovene opera and ballet house. As early as in 1978, Damjan Prelovšek, who studied the building’s history, stated: “it is clear that an adaptation can not bring a more permanent solution, whilst it can destroy a unique artistic whole.” In spite of numerous reservations, the decision was finally made that the existing building, owned by the Republic of Slovenia, would be thoroughly altered. The conceptual plans appeared in 1998, the implementation plans in 2003 and the work was carried out between 2008 and 2009. The main role in the alterations was played by Jurij Kobe and Marjan Zupanc. The building has been extended westwards with an extension on the location of the Piccoli villa. The main goal was to enlarge and modernise the stage sections, to provide more suitable rehearsal premises, dressing rooms, storage space, administration premises, ticket offices and new space where visitors can gather. The whole back façade, together with the extension and a large section of the stage, were removed. The new, large extension has been subjected to the symmetrical design of the building and provides room backstage, access routes, rehearsal halls and auxiliary rooms. The stage area was enlarged by removing the old dressing rooms, deepening the foundations and by extending the existing surrounding walls upwards. Below the auditorium there is now a new underground foyer, with auxiliary rooms, accessible via two new shallow atriums on the sides of the building, which has thus acquired a new transversal axis. The side façade, the main frontage and the auditorium remain unchanged. The alterations were financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.


Source and literature

100 let operne hiše v Ljubljani. Jubilejni katalog slovenskega narodnega gledališča Ljubljana, Ljubljana 1992

Simonetta Bartoccioni-Alba Noella Picotti-Lucia Pillon-Sandro Scandolara, Il Verdi. Teatro di Gorizia, Gorizia 2002

Špelca Čopič-Damjan Prelovšek-Sonja Žitko, Ljubljansko kiparstvo na prostem, Ljubljana 1991, pp. 62–63

Gerhard M. Dienes, Fellner & Helmer. Die Architekten der Illusion. Theaterbau und Bühnenbild in Europa. Anläßlich des Jubiläums "100 Jahre Grazer Oper", Graz 1999

Jiří Hilmera, Ferdinand Pujman. Dokumentace operních inscenací ve sbírkách divadelního oddělení Národního muzea v Praze, Praha 1989 (Edice Prameny k dějinám českého divadla ; sv.11)

Hans-Christoph Hoffmann, Die Theaterbauten von Fellner und Helmer, München 1966 (Studein zur Kunst des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts; Band 2), pp. 79, 87

Andrej Hrausky- Janez Koželj-Miran Kambič,  Arhitekturni vodnik po Ljubljani, Ljubljana 2002

Andrej Hrausky-Jurij Kobe, Atelier Arhitekti, Ljubljana 2007, zloženka Prenova in dozidava zgradbe SNG Opera in balet Ljubljana

Filip Kalan, Obris gledališke zgodovine pri Slovencih, Novi svet, 1-2, Letnik III, Ljubljana 1948

Darinka Kladnik, Ljubljanske metamorfoze, Ljubljana 1991, pp. 102-103

Darinka Kladnik, Preobrazbe Ljubljane. Kulturno-zgodovinski oris preobrazbe ljubljanskih stavb, Ljubljana 2004

Silvester Kopriva, Ljubljana skozi čas, Ljubljana 1989

Walter Lukan, Pozdrav iz Ljubljane. Mesto na starih razglednicah, Ljubljana 1986

Vera Marsić, Fellner i Helmer. Hrvatsko narodno kazalište od idejnog projekta do rekonstrukcije, doktorska disertacija, Zagreb 1986

Breda Mihelič, Vodnik po Ljubljani, Ljubljana 1989, p. 91

Viktor Molka, s. v. Gledališke stavbe in prizorišča, Enciklopedija Slovenije, 3, Ljubljana 1989, p. 246

Žorž Popović, Prostori i objekti spektakla antike, Beograd 1976

Žorž Popović, Istorija arhitekture pozorišta, kazališta, gledališča i teatara Evrope i Jugoslavije, Beograd 1986

Damjan Prelovšek, Stavba Deželnega gledališča v Ljubljani, Kronika, letnik 26, 1978, številka 3, pp. 159–166

Damjan Prelovšek, Stavbarstvo 19. stoletja in iskanje narodne identitete, Umetnost na Slovenskem. Od prazgodovine do danes, Ljubljana 1998, p. 251

Peter Radics, Die Entwicklung des deutschen Bühnenwesens in Laibach, Laibach 1912

Francka Slivnik, Gledališke zgradbe in prizorišča v Ljubljani do konca 19. stoletja, O nevzvišenem v gledališču, Ljubljana 1997, pp. 43–67

Ivan Stopar, Sprehodi po stari Ljubljani. Kulturnozgodovinski vodnik, Ljubljana 1992, p. 196

Ivan Stopar, Likovno snovanje v 19. stoletju, Umetnost na Slovenskem. Od prazgodovine do danes, Ljubljana 1998, p. 214

Anton Štritof, »Tragedija« in »Komedija« na pročelji novega gledališča, Ljubljanski zvon, XIII/1893, pp. 232–233

Nace Šumi, Znamenja. Knjiga o arhitekturni obliki, njeni vsebini in pomenu. Arhitekt Marko Mušič, Ljubljana 2000, pp. 22-25 (Spomenik Juliju Betettu)

Janko Traven,  Tristoletnica prve domače operne uprizoritve v Ljubljani, Opera SNG v Ljubljani. Gledališki list, številka 7. 1959/1960, pp. 225–231

Anton Trstenjak, Slovensko gledališče, Ljubljana 1892

Harald Zielske, Deutsche Theaterbauten bis zum zweiten Weltkrieg. Typologisch-historische Dokumentation einer Baugattung, Berlin 1971 (Schriften der Gesellschaft für Theatergeschihcte; Band 65)

Sonja Žitko, Historizem v kiparstvu 19. stoletja na Slovenskem, Ljubljana 1989, pp. 21, 47-51

Water colours of the plans for the Provincial Theatre in Ljubljana from 1890 (created by Jan Vladimir Hráský) are kept by the Slovenian National Theatre Museum in Ljubljana.



Author: Igor Sapač

Translator: Maja Visenjak Limon

Additional information

No information has yet been entered

Add information

Name: The name will be published

Email: The email will not be published

Information: Please enter information about this theatre, at least 10 characters