It is a prominent spot on any tourist’s itinerary, and a much loved piece of the Budapest cityscape. What’s more, it is actually a historical site that is used continually throughout the year, hosting one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world. We are, of course, talking about the Budapest Opera House, also known by its more formal title, the Hungarian State Opera House.
Commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph when Hungary was still part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, the construction took 10 years to complete and opened in 1884: it was then called the Hungarian Royal Grand Opera. The emperor’s involvement probably accounts for the royal stairway, which is off to the side, by the still-existing ramp for horse-drawn carriages. The architect, Miklós Ybl (also responsible for the St. Stephen’s Basilica), planned the Opera House in neo-Renaissance style, in line with the prevailing taste of the age. The first director was Ferenc Erkel, composer of the Hungarian National Anthem. His position was later filled by an up-and-coming young composer named Gustav Mahler.
The interior was designed to produce acoustics suitable for world-class singers. Indeed, in a recent study by a group of sound engineers, the Budapest Opera House was determined to have the third best acoustics in all of Europe, following Paris and Milan.
The decoration of the Opera is a sumptuous affair. Over 7 kg of gold went into the gilded interior, which is adorned with over a hundred statues and paintings. Frescos and mosaics greet the opera-goer in the ornate, luxurious grand front hall. But this is not just a luxury for the rich. It was designed with the people in mind, and is still affordable these days: about ten dollars will get you a ticket, though you can spend much less if you want to sit in the upper balcony.
The Opera House was renovated in the late 1990s, and it shines with the splendor of a polished jewel.
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