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Rebuilding the Hungarian State Opera House

Meet an up-and-coming Hungarian opera director, and the chief engineer leading the ambitious $170 million project to renovate the Hungarian State Opera House

Posted: Dec 26, 2018 11:26 AM
Updated: Dec 26, 2018 11:31 AM

Budapest has proved a first-class sanctuary for music aficionados throughout the years, drawing some of the finest musicians from around the world.

Today, the Hungarian capital embodies the remnants of its rich musical history, with grand concert and music halls honoring the likes of composers Franz Liszt and Ferenc Erkel.

The breathtaking Hungarian State Opera House is one of the finest examples of neo-Renaissance architecture in the world, while the juxtaposing Béla Bartók National Concert Hall stamps a modern and contemporary feel onto the city's imposing skyline.

From the wondrous interior of the Liszt Music Academy to the flamboyant Vigadó, here are six of the best concert halls in Budapest when you travel here:

1. Vigadó Concert Hall

The oldest of the major music venues in Budapest, Vigadó Concert Hall is a typically Hungarian mix of Moorish, Gothic and romantic styles.

It was built by architect Frigyes Feszl, who started work on the building in 1859 and completed it in 1865.

Since the very first premiere took place here, names such as Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss Jr., Sergei Prokofiev and Gerhard Richter have graced its stage, and the grandeur of its interior decoration makes up for any weaknesses in its acoustics.

Located in the center of the city, overlooking the River Danube, the Vigadó opened its doors after a ten-year refurbishment in March 2014, and has remained one of the city's most popular music venues ever since.

Vigadó Concert Hall, Vigadó tér 2, 1051 Budapest

2. Hungarian State Opera House

Constructed to rival Vienna's similar-looking opera house, the Hungarian State Opera House is a tumultuous neo-Renaissance affair with added Baroque features.

Completed in 1884, it boasts a grand chandelier that weighs three tons and almost three kilograms of gold was used to gild the cherubs and nymphs of its sumptuously ornate interior.

The venue's former directors have included Gustav Mahler and Otto Klemperer and while some of its more recent productions have caused controversy, there's no denying the quality of its acoustics or the ability of the performers and musicians that grace the stage here. The ballet productions get top marks, too.

What's more, the price of tickets won't break the bank, so you can treat yourself to a seat in the stalls or a glass of fizz on the balcony overlooking Andrássy Avenue, Budapest's Champs-Élysées style boulevard.

Please note, the Opera House is closed for refurbishments until 2020, but tours of the building are still available. In the meanwhile, shows are being performed at the Erkel Theatre.

Hungarian State Opera House, Andrássy út 22, 1061 Budapest; +36 1 814-7100

3. Liszt Music Academy

Founded by Franz Liszt himself -- a statue of the composer presides over its entrance -- this prestigious concert hall and music conservatory is housed in a magnificent Art Nouveau building .

Liszt Music Academy reopened in 2013 after a two-year renovation that revived the gold, pink and black hues of its original 1907 interior.

The building's frame was also strengthened, and a sophisticated air-conditioning system was installed -- cunningly concealed behind the laurel leaf decoration on the ceiling.

Its backstage facilities are second to none, while the seats in the concert hall allow for ample legroom.

Liszt Music Academy, Liszt Ferenc tér 8, 1061 Budapest, +36 1 462-4600.

4. Erkel Theatre

The Erkel Theatre houses the largest auditorium in Hungary and has been the Hungarian State Opera's second performance venue since 1951.

Although it was opened as the People's Opera in 1911, very little of the original design remains following several rounds of renovations over the years.

But despite its drab 1950s exterior, a visit to the Erkel Theatre is still quite an experience. Some great shows are performed here throughout the year and the acoustics are exceptional.

As for the interior, it's beautifully decked out in Art Deco simplicity, with light walls set against dark wood.

Erkel Theatre, II Janos Pál papa tér 30, Budapest; +36 1 814-7100

5. Béla Bartók Concert Hall

Perhaps the finest acoustics in the city -- some say the whole of Europe -- are found in the Béla Bartók Concert Hall, positioned south of the city center in the Palace of Arts (or Müpa, to give it its popular Hungarian abbreviation).

Opened in 2005, the 1,500-seat venue takes its name from the great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, and boasts a sleek modern interior devised by the world's top concert hall designers.

The result is superb -- the local joke is that you can hear the mistakes better too, which is enough to make any musician nervous.

While Béla Bartók Concert Hall hosts major international orchestras, it also has folk, pop and jazz on its program.

Béla Bartók Concert Hall, Palace of Arts, Komor Marcell u. 1. 1095 Budapest; 36 1 555-3300

6. Budapest Music Center

The newest concert hall in the city since moving to new premises, Budapest Music Center is an intimate chamber music venue with just 350 seats.

Opened in 2013, its headquarters are housed in a former residential building, preserving the old neo-classical shell of the exterior.

However, inside is a very different story, with carefully engineered acoustics and a decor that's modern without being ostentatious.

A very satisfactory blend of old and new, the venue also houses the Opus Jazz Club, part of the same complex.

Budapest Music Center, Mátyás utca 8, 1093 Budapest; +36 1 216 7894

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