Saturday, November 19, 2016

187. An Afternoon at the Opera


A visit to Budapest is incomplete – so they say – without visiting the iconic Hungarian State Opera House located in busy central Budapest. And so I charged up the camera battery and headed off to join the other English-speaking tourists on a guided walk through this magnificent theatre. Guided tours were also available in French, Italian, Hungarian and German - but I decided to go with Lisa - our very amusing Hungarian-English-speaking-guide who kept us entertained for a full hour with bits of gossip and lots of building detail. 



The decision to build the Opera House was made in 1873, and following a public tender, the jury selected the design submitted by famed 19th century Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl. Funded partly by the city of Budapest and by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, construction began in 1875 and, despite minor delays, was completed nine years later. The opening night – to which Emperor and King Franz Joseph also attended – was held on 27 September 1884. 


Entrance portico ...


The foyer’s vaulted ceiling is covered in murals by Bertalan Székely and Mór Than. They depict the nine Muses.



First Staircase leading to the mezzanine ...



Ferenc Erkel and Franz Liszt. 
Both sculpted by Alajos Stróbl.

 
 

Many important artists have been guests here including the composer Gustav Mahler, who was director in Budapest from 1888 to 1891 and Otto Klemperer, who was music director for three years from 1947 to 1950. In addition to opera performances, the House is home to the Hungarian National Ballet, and also to the Budapest Opera Ball, an annual society event dating back to 1886.


It is a richly-decorated building and is considered one of the architect's masterpieces. It was built in neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Baroque. Although in size and capacity it is not among the greatest, in beauty and the quality of acoustics the Budapest Opera House is considered by reputation to be amongst the finest opera houses in the world.




Wrought-iron lamps illuminate the wide stone staircase and the main entrance. Going to the opera was a great social occasion in the 19th century. A vast, sweeping staircase was an important element of the opera house as it allowed ladies to show off their new frocks.


 




The walls are “faux” marble, but all columns in the reception areas are the real thing.


 



The auditorium holds 1,261 people. It is horseshoe shaped and – according to measurements done in the 1970s by a group of international engineers – has the third best acoustics in Europe after La Scala in Milan and the Palais Garnier in Paris.




The royal box is located centrally in the three-storey circle. It is decorated with sculptures symbolizing the four operatic voices - soprano, alto, tenor and bass. According to our guide – Emperor Franz Joseph was not fond of opera but would appear in the Royal Box just to be seen, then once the music had started, would adjourn to the Royal lounge for the duration.

Nobody else was allowed to use the Royal Box other than the Emperor – including the Empress – and today it is reserved for the Hungarian President – though our guide rather sarcastically stated that it remains empty most of the year.




The Sissi Box to the left of the stage … when not on the arm of the Emperor, the Empress Queen Elisabeth used this box to attend performances – it doesn’t give a very good view of the stage – but the Empress liked to be “seen” from by the entire hall. Today it is used solely by the Musical Director – who also has a liking to be “seen” - according to our guide.



The main hall is decorated with a bronze chandelier weighing 3050 kg. It illuminates a fresco by Károly Lotz, depicting the Greek gods on Olympus.
 

Entrance to the Royal Box ...

Staircase disappearing up to the next level ...

  Doors into the boxes ...

More red carpet taking us somewhere ...

And then an hour later, back down to the foyer ...

  
... and then finally back out into the street 
and heading to the nearest cafe for a shot of caffeine...



Miklós Ybl’s grand palace has remained virtually unchanged in the 130 years since and continues to attract admirers of opera and ballet alike. Each year, thousands of tourists visit the building to take in one of Budapest’s most impressive 19th century national monuments.

The Royal Sphinxes guarding the House ...

I didn’t attend a performance at the Opera House, but I did go to a magnificent show at the not-so-blingy-but-still-grand-in-its-own-way Budapest Operetta Theatre.


Can’t tell you anything about the building, other than it is a big 20thcentury theatre – beautifully decorated interior of course. The operetta was a modern adaption of an old story based on the life of Marie Antoinette – after she took up residence in Paris until she lost her head at the hands of the mob. The show was fabulous in all aspects – staging, costumes, music and of course fine acting and singing by the 50+ actors on stage. The show lasted over 3 hours and was in Hungarian, but English surtitles above the stage made it easy to follow …


Some more contemporary art in my next blog post ...