Among the architectural pearls of Irkutsk, the Drama Theatre holds a special place. Traditional theatrical lanterns highlight its columns and figured oval windows, which are in turn framed on the left and right by the dates "1894" and "1897." It took three years to Irkutsk's craftsmen to build, or it may be better to say to create, one of the best of the Russian provincial theatre buildings.
Its history began a little bit earlier, on October 28, 1890, when the great fire destroyed the third wooden theatre in Irkutsk. Considerable money was necessary to construct a replacement. The general-governor personally sent telegrams to the wealthy inhabitants of the region asking for donations.
Recognizing the construction of a new theatrical building "as a pressing business necessity," A. Goremikin, the governor, was convincing in his arguments, emphasizing that "the public donations to this business constitute a unique source and offer hope that the city will again have a theatre."
A building committee was formed to supervise the expenditure of money. To ensure the future structure's value, the committee specified that in the future theatre there should be as many inexpensive seats as possible to make it accessible to the masses of inhabitants. Then the committee agreed to announce a competition in which proposals for the theater project would be accepted from all over the country. The draft proposal of Prof. A.A. Shretter was recognized as the winner of this competition.
The main responsibility for this construction lay on the shoulders of the Irkutsk foremen - masons, carpenters, smiths. Even now, a hundred years later, we are amazed at how well they succeeded in the short period of three years, working almost entirely by hand, to erect the building that became the ornament of our city.
In December, 1896, the main building was completed and tested for structural safety.
The conditions of the lease were made public. The theatre was provided to the theatrical manager free of charge, except for the income from buffets and cloak-rooms, which were at managment's disposal. Under these conditions, dancing and other such entertainment were not allowed.
At last, on August 30,1897, the grand opening of theatre was held. The prayer was said in the large foyer of theatre, where icons were brought from Kharlapievskoi Church. Then the celebrations proceeded into the main hall of the theatre.
The first theatrical season in this new building began two days later, on September 2,1897. The troupe played an immortal comedy, "Auditor" by N.V.Gogol. After a long interruption the theatre was again revived in Irkutsk.
Photo by Igor Bulygin ©