The very first recorded theatrical performance in Debrecen took place in 1798 in a “house of comedy” and it was the first of many in subsequent years, these were held at various locations by various groups, but there was no permanent venue fit for purpose.
The first independent theatre from Debrecen was founded in 1810 by actors separated from the Transylvanian Hungarian Noble Theater Society, and then in 1814 the chief judge signed a ten-year contract with the Oradea theater company, according to which he played alternately in Debrecen and Oradea for 10 years.
Eventually the Csokonai Theatre was built after a period of literary revolution in 1865 but was only named later in 1916 after one of Debrecen’s literary greats of the age, the poet Csokonai Vitéz Mihály who Just like many famous poets and playwrights of the time, he only became famous after death.
The theatre’s opening performance was Katona’s 1819 play Báank bán, a play celebrating independence from Austrian rule.
The building began life in 1865, after fire destroyed previous temporary venues. It finally got the go ahead as a result of the theatrical success and transformation that occurred during the period between 1847 and 1857. Along with success came the political will and finance necessary to implement and build the theatre.
The theatre was designed by Antal Szkalnitzky in a romantic style with Moorish and Byzantine ornamentations. The interior is all that most would hope for from a Theatre of the period, with rich decoration and a three-tier gilt balconies, elaborate frescoes and chandeliers, the perfect setting for opera and musicals alike.
On the outside of the building, sculptures of other leading playwrights Sándor Petőfi, Ferenc Kazinczy, Mihály Vörösmarty, Károly Kisfaludy, Ferenc Kölcsey, and Mihály Csokonai Vitéz. In addition there are sculptures of two muses, Melpomene and Terpsikhore from Greek mythology.
Today the theatre is a Hungarian language repertory theatre with departments for prose, dance and orchestra as well as opera since 1952. Currently (2020) the theatre is undergoing extensive repair to bring the building up to the standard expected of a ‘National theatre’ which the theatre was designated in 2012.
The renovation of the theatre is due to be completed by 2023, it includes improvements to the reception area, a new staircase leading to the auditorium and the removal of pillars/columns to increase viewing range and seating capacity.