The Incredible Opera House You Must Visit In Budapest–Even If The Emperor Dissed It

The State Opera House Grand Staircase

Whatever  you do in Budapest, do not miss its opera house—even though it annoyed the heck out of Emperor Franz Josef.

And Michael Jackson, the well-known world traveler, might have thought he was in the wrong place if he had visited the Budapest State Opera House. For Michael had some issues with geography.

According to Romanian lore, he stood on the balcony of the famed Central Committee building in Bucharest, overlooking thousands of people massed below in Revolution Square, and shouted, “Hello, Budapest!”

Budapest does have a building that rivals another famed structure—its State Opera House is a magnificent edifice that perhaps even surpasses Vienna’s iconic opera house.

According to another legend, because of its beauty and grandeur, the emperor went to Budapest’s opera house only once, ashamed of the fact it rivaled his beloved Vienna opera building. Franz Josef was the emperor of Austria and Hungary, and he decreed Budapest and Vienna equal (in order to appease Hungarians). He used royal funds to build the opera house in Budapest, and attended its grand opening in 1884.

But he never again set foot in the place, our Abercrombie & Kent guide, Petra, explained, because he was  annoyed that it outshone the opera house in his native Vienna.

But you can, and should, see it—perhaps even more than once. It’s not just to gawk at the 15 pounds of gold spread around the auditorium. There are hundreds of statues and paintings, inside and out.

Before you even enter, you’ll see imposing statues of Mozart and Beethoven, to name just two. The main entrance is flanked by still more—Liszt and the first director of the Opera House, Ferenc Erkel.

Want more? Don’t miss the wrought iron lamps when you go in—if you can get past the pair of stone sphinxes acting as guards.

You’ll do some walking once inside, but making your way up the remarkable grand staircase is an experience in itself, putting you in an historical setting and mood.

The building was designed by Miklos Ybl, who not only made it beautiful in what is called neo-Renaissance style, but put in a host of technical innovations, such as fire-safety aspects, heating and cooling systems, acoustics that still make it one of the finest places to hear music in all of Europe.

And oh, yes, Franz Josef was adamant about one thing in return for helping fund the music palace: don’t make it larger than the Vienna opera house.

Credit: Getty

Vienna Opera House

Make sure you plan ahead in visiting the Budapest State Opera House. You can’t go there in the morning if you want a tour. It’s open in mid-afternoon for the equivalent of about $10. And you can also have a five-minute mini-performance at the end of the tour for an additional $15—a singer will entertain you accompanied by a recorded orchestra.

Although Vienna’s opera house has landmark status, the emperor and his cohorts kept a sort of distance between themselves and Budapest’s. The good burghers of Vienna had always considered themselves superior to the people of Budapest—too many gypsies, for example. It would be an embarrassment to the emperor’s home town if he paid too much attention to that building in Budapest.

But you can see for yourself what has brought admirers and esthetes to Budapest all these years. Just get swallowed up in its grandeur.



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