The project was financed using only private capital (Sandor Ujfalfy bequeathed his domains and estates from Szolnok-Doboka to the National Theatre Fund from Kolozsvár)
The theatre opened on 8 September 1906 with Ferenc Herczeg's Bujdosók and until 1919, as Cluj was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, it was home to the local Hungarian National Theatre (Hungarian: Nemzeti Színház). The last performance of the Hungarian troup was held on September 30, 1919 and presented Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Horatio, I am dead; / Thou livest; report me and my cause aright / To the unsatisfied."
Since 1919, the building has been home to the local Romanian National Theatre and Romanian Opera, while the local Hungarian Theatre and Opera received the theatre building in Emil Isac street, close to the Central Park and Someşul Mic River.
After the Second Vienna Award the building was again the home of the Hungarian Theatre. On 31st October 1944 the Romanian and Hungarian actors celebrating the freedom of the city held a common performance, the revenue being donated to the Russian and Romanian wounded soldiers.
The hall initially had a capacity of 928 places, being conceived in the Neo-baroque style, with some inflexions inspired by the Secessionism in the decoration of the foyer. Between 1950 and 1956 the stage house was extended to 1200 seats.
The Romanian National Theatre was officially opened on 18 September 1919, simultaneously with the Romanian Opera and Gheorghe Dima Music Academy. The inauguration performance, Poemul Unirei (English: The Unification Poem) by Zaharia Bârsan, took place on 1 December 1919.
The founder of the National Theatre of Cluj, as well as his first director, was Zaharia Bârsan, actor, stage director, playwright and animator. Some of the famous first members of the National Theatre include Olimpia Bârsan, Stănescu-Papa, Dem Mihăilescu-Brăila, Neamţu-Ottonel, Jeana Popovici, Stanca Alexandrescu, Ion Tâlvan, Ştefan Braborescu etc.
Between 1936 and 1940, the directorship of Victor Papilian meant a more profound opening towards modernity. In that period, a studio was created, in order to facilitate the contact of the public with the modern dramatic productions. Some famous actors of the time include Magda Tâlvan, Maria Cupcea, Titus Croitoru, Violeta Boitoş, Viorica Iuga, Nicolae Sasu, Gheorghe Aurelian etc.
In 1940, as a result of the Second Vienna Award, the theatre, like other Romanian institutions, had to move to the Romanian part of the artificially divided Transylvania. While the local university moved to Sibiu, the national theatre moved to Timişoara. In December 1945, at the end of World War II, as Cluj became part of Romania once again, the theatrical institution returned to Cluj and restarted its activity, under the directorship of Aurel Buteanu.
Between 1948 and 1964, although under the initial stages of the Communist regime, the theatre remarkably managed to keep true to its artistic values. Famous names of the time include Marietta Sadova, Ştefan Braborescu, Radu Stanca, Viorica Cernucan, Maia Ţipan-Kaufmann, Ligia Moga, Gheorghe M. Nuţescu, Emilia Hodiş, Gheorghe Radu, Aurel Giurumia, Alexandru Munte, Silvia Ghelan etc.
After 1965, as Vlad Mugur became its director, the theatre focused on aesthetic values, refusing the ideological and moralising line imposed by the increasingly strict Communist authorities. The performances became based on a balanced type of Modernism. In this period the National Theatre established itself as an important European theatrical institution, due to the prestigious artistic tours in Italy with performances such as Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides, Caligula by Albert Camus, A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. Among the young famous artists of the time there were Silvia Popovici, Valentino Dain, Melania Ursu, Valeria Seciu, George Motoi, Dorel Vişan, Anton Tauf.
The directors that followed, Ion Vlad, Maia Ţipan-Kaufmann, Petre Bucşa, Constantin Cubleşan and Horia Bădescu, continued to try (and succeeded quite frequently) to avoid the Communist censorship by maintaining a balance between national and universal dramatic texts and between classical and modern elements. Famous artists of the time include Mihai Măniuţiu, Gelu Bogdan Ivaşcu, Maria Munteanu, Ileana Negru, Miriam Cuibus, Marius Bodochi, Petre Băcioiu, Dorin Andone. In this period, performances like Săptămîna luminată by M. Săulescu, The Lesson by Eugène Ionesco, and Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot were staged during several tours in England, France, Yugoslavia, Finland, the USA and Egypt.
After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the performances became more diverse and modern. Famous names of this period include Victor Ioan Frunză, Mihai Măniuţiu, Mona Chirilă, Anca Bradu, Th. Cristian Popescu, Liviu Ciulei, Crin Teodorescu, Lucian Giurchescu, Mircea Marosin, Sorana Coroamă-Stanca, Horea Popescu, Gheorghe Harag, Dinu Cernescu. The directors of the theatre until 2000 were, successively, V.I. Frunză, Anton Tauf and Dorel Vişan.
Since 2000, the director of the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre has been Ion Vartic. The performances comprise original dramatic works (classic and modern, Romanian and universal). Important stage directors include Vlad Mugur, Mihai Măniuţiu, Sanda Manu and Alexandru Dabija.