Culture / theatre
City Theatre Komedija in Zagreb
In over 70 years of existence, the theatre featured 3600 plays, some of which are so popular that they are still being performed, even 50 years after they premiered. Komedija is the place where one can enjoy award-winning theatre performances, mainly musicals, rock operas and comedies.
City Theatre Komedija (Croatian: Gradsko kazalište Komedija) was founded on the 1st of November 1950 as the successor of the Zagreb Drama Theatre and the Vedri Kerempuh Theatre. Its main activities are musicals and drama performances. At first, the repertoire consisted of operettas and comic operas. The first play was the musical Zemlja smiješka that premiered on the 29th of November 1950.
From the 1960s, the program included musicals, and since the 1970s, rock and pop operas. As for drama plays, the theatre is focused on classical and contemporary comedy. The artistic ensemble, together with the technical staff, consists of 150 artists: dramatic actors, actors who sing, the choir, ballet dancers and opera singers. The theatre, projects and employees have also held numerous awards and recognitions.
Yalta, Yalta and other musicals
One of the biggest hits of Komedija theatre is the musical Yalta, Yalta (Croatian: Jalta, Jalta). The world premiere was in 1971, and until now, Komedija performed it more than a thousand times.
It was even played several times in Italy and translated to Italian. This musical is a Croatian classic, the most popular of all time and seen by generations. Jalta, Jalta is still featured in Komedija’s repertoire since it’s an evergreen idea.
The director was Vlado Štefančić, the libretto was written by Milan Grgić and songs were composed by Alfi Kabiljo.
The story takes place in Yalta in 1945 when Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt were staying there. The main characters are their valets Griša, Larry, Stanley and a housekeeper Nina Filipovna. The valets don’t trust each other and at the same time try to divide the world, all but the ‘green meadow’. In the end, the housekeeper leads a now-famous song about peace – Let this whole world (Croatian: Neka cijeli ovaj svijet).
Kabiljo is also the composer for the musical One Song a Day Takes Mischief Away, Croatian: Tko pjeva zlo ne misli or in English: He who sings means no harm, made for one of the most famous Croatian movies of all times.
The movie was filmed in 1970 and interpreted by Komedija in 1998. Four years before, he won Porin, the most prominent music award in Croatia, for yet another Komedija’s musical, The King is Naked (Croatian: Kralj je gol).
Besides domestic production, Komedija brought to the Croatian audience the top musicals from abroad. Thanks to them, Croatians enjoyed musicals like Hair by Galt MacDermot, Little Shop of Horrors by Ashman and Menken and more contemporary hits, such as Mamma Mia and Chicago.
Operetta and Comedy
A classical operetta is a traditional form nurtured in Komedija since the beginning. Until now, the theatre set over 30 operettas and ⅓ of them were Croatian originals. Some of them are Spli’ski akvarel and Mala Floramy by Tijardović, and Đerdan (called Mali Ero), composed by Jakov Gotovac for the fifth anniversary of the theatre, and later renewed for the 60th.
From foreign production, the most popular ones were Šišmiš by Johann Strauss Junior and Kneginja Čardaša by Emerich Kalman.
Comedy repertoire has a focus on Croatian plays and authors. In Komedija, one could see plays of famous Croatian writers like Marin Držić, August Cesarec, A.G. Matoš, Miroslav Krleža and Marija Jurić Zagorka.
The world’s famous classics performed in Komedija are the ones of Shakespeare, Goldoni, Moliere, Pirandello, Ionesco and Brecht, among others.
Gubec-beg and other rock operas
The first Croatian rock opera Gubec-beg premiered in 1975, and it’s believed to be the world’s fifth rock opera. As the name suggests, a rock opera is a musical made of rock songs with lyrics that follow the same story.
The opera is a story about Matija Gubec, the leader of the peasant revolt against the landowner Ferenc Tahy in 1573, which was a critical part of Croatian history.
Ivica Krajač, the librettist, Karlo Metikoš, a composer, and Miljenko Prohaska, an arranger, worked on the idea for four years.
The premiere was held in Vatroslav Lisinski Hall in Zagreb. Some of the singers were Miro Ungar and Josipa Lisac, together with Ladarice who performed more than 200 times until 1983. The play was shown again in 2004 at Jarunfest.
Following the success of the play, Krajač, Metikoš and Prohaska used the same format for a story called The Witch from Grič (Croatian: Grička vještica). Later Krajač and Zlatko Tanodi wrote a story about the Black Queen (Croatian: Crna kraljica) which finished the trilogy.
Another hit performed by Komedija’s ensemble was Aida, a rock opera written by Elton John and Tim Rice. The Croatian premiere of this global hit was in 2005, and in 2019, after 90 performances, the production decided to remove it from the repertoire.
Broadway’s first big hit in this musical genre was Jesus Christ Superstar by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and librettist Tim Rice, premiered in 1971. Komedija’s ensemble had a premiere of this opera at the beginning of 2019.
The play was produced in cooperation with The Really Useful Group owned by Webber. The Croatian performance won several awards, including the Croatian Theatre Award for the best play and the best male role and scenography in a musical in 2020.
Komedija put on the Croatian stage many other popular musicals and rock operas. For instance, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (Croatian: Jadnici) were seen in London three years after the musical was set in Zagreb by Komedija.
This theatre is by far the best in Croatia when it comes to musicals. Right now, there are many cancellations following the daily shifts in pandemic news, but hopefully, pretty soon, we will enjoy the entire repertoire once again.