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Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest, Hungary - Famous Opera House
490    Dibyendu Banerjee    05/07/2023

Designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th-century Hungarian architecture and located in central Budapest on the elegant Andrássy Avenue, the majestic building of the Hungarian State Opera House, originally known as the Hungarian Royal Opera House is the second largest opera house in Budapest and also in Hungary. Before the construction of the building, the people of Pest and Buda used to attend musical and dramatic performances at the National Theatre. But as the city started to develop following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, it was strongly felt that it was not sufficiently equipped to fulfil the role of a proper opera house.

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Funded by the city of Budapest and by the Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, construction of the building began in 1875 and the new house opened to the public on 27 September 1884.

hungarian state opera house

Before the commencement of the construction, a committee was set up for the preparation of the construction. The committee found that the Sugár Út, which was being built at that time and later named Andrássy Avenue, Hermina Square and the premises of the flea market are the appropriate site for the cheapest possible construction. The site also had an added positional advantage for the expansive formation of the main façade of the proposed building. According to the plan of Miklós Ybl, who won an invitation based tender on designing the building, the budget of the proposed building, comprising a capacity of nearly 1800 seats and a standing room of 200 in a four storey building, along with a horseshoe-shaped auditorium, was calculated to be around three million forints.

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However, as the then Prime Minister did not approve the huge budget, the plans were reduced to two million forints and an audience of 1200. Nevertheless, the structure of both the ceiling of the auditorium and the roof of the stage were made of steel, instead of a wooden structure and the new patent model of the Vienna based company, Asphaleia was applied, in place of the inflammable coulisse system of the wooden structure.

hungarian state opera house

The richly decorated building of the Hungarian State Opera House, built in neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Baroque and consisting of a basement, ground floor, mezzanine floor, at the stage level and further four levels, is considered one of the architect's masterpieces. The main façade, decorated with statues of opera greats such as Puccini, Mozart, Liszt and Verdi and facing Andrássy Street, has driveways leading to the royal stairs on the left and to the stage door on the right. The ground floor of the building, containing the lobby, the cloakroom, the upstairs buffet, the Székely Bertalan Room, Red Lounge, also houses the main staircase.

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An arched gateway was artistically created under the main staircase on both sides of the main staircase. The imposing main staircase, which runs from the richly embellished lobby to the first floor and leads to the auditorium floor level and the second floor cafeteria, is surrounded by loggias opening outwards on the three sides. Although the dimensions of the main staircase seem to be less grandiose than those in the Paris Opera House, its space formation is similarly impressive.

hungarian state opera house

In concurrence with the opera songs associated with the dramatic performance in the building, the decoration of the Hungarian State Opera House follows a musical theme. The niches on either side of the main entrance are gracefully enriched with marble figures of two most prominent composers of Hungary, created by an Austro-Hungarian sculptor, Alajos Stróbl. One of them is Franz Liszt, a Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher of the Romantic period and the other one is Ferenc Erkel, the great Hungarian composer and the father of Hungarian grand opera, who composed the music of Himnusz, the national anthem of Hungary, adopted in 1844. The foyer of the opera house is decorated with majestic marble columns and its vaulted ceiling is embellished with murals depicting the nine Muses, painted by the reputed Hungarian artists, Bertalan Székely and Mór Than.

hungarian state opera house
hungarian state opera house

The horseshoe-shaped three storey auditorium, with the capacity to hold 1,261 people, is decorated with a massive bronze chandelier and its ceiling is painted by Károly Lotz, depicting the Greek gods on Olympus. The royal box, located centrally in the three-storey circle, is decorated with sculptures symbolizing the four operatic voices, called soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Consequently, the Hungarian State Opera House is the first theatre in Hungary equipped with the Asphaleia system applied in the stage machinery for moving the stage equipment and the overhead scenic appliances by hydraulic power. While the backstage is well utilized, the two sides of the stage are framed with proscenium walls and balconies.

hungarian state opera house

Miraculously, the palatial building of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest remained undamaged during the Second World War and opera performances resumed after the end of the war, in 1945. After five years, the grand opera hall was significantly expanded and new lighting was provided. However, due to the extremely deteriorating condition of the building, the government was forced to close the theatre in 1980, for the execution of the master plan for the betterment and preservation of the glorious structure. After the prolonged period of reconstruction, the Hungarian State Opera was re-opened in 1984, exactly one hundred years after the first performance in the opera house.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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