Insider’s Guide: Opera House in Budapest

  • 21 Jun 2023 7:13 AM
Insider’s Guide: Opera House in Budapest
On Budapest’s showcase boulevard of Andrássy út, the ornate State Opera House has recently been completely renovated. This architectural marvel now sparkles anew, standing as a testament to the city’s rich musical heritage.

What is the Opera House ?

The Opera House, officially known as the Hungarian State Opera House, was created to establish a world-class venue that would rival the great opera houses of Europe and provide a platform for local and international talent to shine.

It also granted a home to the Hungarian National Ballet company, founded in the same year that the Opera House was unveiled, 1884.

In the later 19th century, Budapest experienced a surge in architectural and cultural growth, and the construction of an opera house became a leading symbol of the city’s artistic prowess.

Its ornate interiors, adorned with intricate gold leaf, lavish frescoes and exquisite marble, transport visitors to a bygone era of elegance and sophistication.

When was the Opera House built and by whom?

The construction of the Opera House began in 1875 and took nearly a decade to complete. It was designed by the Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl, in elegant Neo-Renaissance style. Ybl’s vision combined elements of grandeur and opulence as he brought in some of the finest artists of his day. A fresco depicting Greek Gods by Károly Lotz, who also worked on Buda Palace, is illuminated by a vast chandelier in the main hall.

The vaulted ceiling in the lobby displays Classical Greek by Bertalan Székely and Mór Than, both established artists in their own right.

Its grand opening took in September 1884, with a reopening exactly a century later after its first major renovation. Another complete overhaul was carried out very recently, with the opening gala in March 2022.

Where is the Opera House?

The Opera House stands on grand avenue Andrássy út, halfway between Oktogon and a major crossing point downtown. Right alongside its own stop on the yellow M1 metro line, a historic attraction in its own right, the Opera is three minutes from focal downtown square Vörösmary tér near the Danube, and six from Heroes’ Square in front of City Park.

It’s also an easy, pleasurable and mainly tree-lined walk from either, passing other city landmarks en route.

A few hundred metres towards Oktogon is Liszt Ferenc tér, the square named after the Hungarian composer whose music academy is another of Budapest’s ornate cultural landmarks.

What else should I know about the Opera House?

Standing outside the Opera House are the statues of Franz Liszt and the institution’s first musical director, Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem.

The figures were carved by Alajos Stróbl, also responsible for the equestrian statue of St Stephen by Fishermen’s Bastion, and whose pupil, Zsigmond Strobl Kisfaludi, created what became the Statue of Lady Liberty atop Gellért Hill.

Alajos Stróbl added a further historic touch as the completion date neared, carving the two huge sphinxes that guard the entrance to the Opera House, characterise by their breasts and leonine bodies.

While Ferenc Erkel himself conducted on the opening night in the presence of the Emperor Franz Joseph, for the grand reopening in 2022 after renovation, Plácido Domingo was the star guest.

To sum up, why visit the Opera House?

Attending a performance at the Opera House is an unforgettable experience. Whether you're a seasoned opera lover or a newcomer to the world of classical music, the acoustics of the auditorium and the gilded surroundings will leave you spellbound.

The Opera House also offers guided tours in English that allow visitors to explore its hidden corners and learn about its rich history. From the ornate main staircase to the royal box and the magnificent main auditorium, each part of the building has a story to tell, offering a glimpse into the past and the artistic legacy of Budapest.

Words by Peterjon Cresswell for
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website

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