The neo-Renaissance Hungarian State Opera House is the largest opera building in Hungary and home to the Budapest Opera Ball, a society event dating back to 1886 and culminating each season, which lasts from September to the end of June. Besides opera performances, the Opera House is home to the Hungarian National Ballet.
In front of the building stands the statue of Ferenc Erkel, composer of the Hungarian national anthem and the first music director of the Opera House. He was also the founder of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. There is also another statue, one of Franz Liszt, the best known Hungarian composer.
Designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th-century Hungarian architecture, the construction lasted from 1875 to 1884 and was funded by the city of Budapest and by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. The Hungarian Royal Opera House (as it was known then) opened to the public on September 27, 1884.
It is a richly decorated building, regarded as one of the architect’s masterpieces. It was built in the neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Baroque. Ornamentation includes paintings and sculptures by leading figures of Hungarian art of the time, among others Bertalan Székely, Mór Than and Károly Lotz. Although in size and capacity is limited, because of its beauty and the quality of acoustics the Budapest Opera House is considered to be amongst the finest opera houses in the world.
The auditorium holds 1261 seats. It is horseshoe-shaped and – according to measurements done in the 1970s by a group of international engineers – has the 3rd best acoustics in Europe after La Scala in Milan and the Palais Garnier in Paris. Although many opera houses have been built since, the Budapest Opera House is still among the best in terms of the acoustics.
In the 1970s the condition of the building prompted the Hungarian State to order a major renovation, which eventually began in 1980 and lasted four years. The reopening was held exactly 100 years after the original opening, on the September 27, 1984.