When it was built in 1884, Budapest’s Opera House was the second grandest theatre in the world. This was an actual condition imposed upon architect Miklos Ybl while he was designing it. He was given strict instructions that it mustn’t be as opulent as the Opera House in Vienna, but could surpass all others. No expense was spared, the materials and craftmanship creating one of the finest performance spaces and attracting the greatest performers of their time.
The Vienna Ring Opera House then tragically burnt down with a great loss of life, making the Hungarian State Opera House the grandest in the world. It survived two World Wars intact, a lasting tribute to the 19th century era of culture and prosperity that had created it. This is why I found myself stood in the grand foyer waiting to start my tour, the state rooms, royal boxes and stage itself all about to reveal a grandeur little seen today.
What can I say about the experience? It was almost like stepping into a time machine, the marble, gilt and polished bronze combining in a dizzying kaleidoscope of opulence that is difficult to describe. The building is virtually original, a feat in itself after the shelling and destruction of WW2 and the subsequent Communist Cold War. What is left is almost as theatrical as the opera and ballet performed inside.
We were led for an hour through room after room of wooden panelling, fine plaster and beautiful decoration. The photography shows the detail of the building but can’t convey the atmosphere. My recommendation is if you’re in Budapest, and can’t attend an actual evening performance, make time at 3 or 4pm for the official tour. It’s a rare glimpse into a vanished past.
Here is the website for the State Opera House, tours take place everyday in a variety of languages. There is an extra charge to be able to take photographs on the tour.