After five years of renovation, the Ybl Palace, the building of the Hungarian State Opera House on Andrássy Avenue, close to the city center in Budapest, opens its doors to the public in March. The General Director of the Hungarian State Opera, Szilveszter Ókovács describes to Diplomacy&Trade the various aspects of the renewal and the scope of the renovation works.
The General Director says the reconstruction of the Opera House was made necessary mainly by the decades-long and inevitable replacement of the previous and now obsolete East-German stage technology. “In the last decade, we prepared a modernization program that was supposed to remedy the shortcomings of the house, with the replacement of the underground and overhead stage engineering, and other parts of the staff areas. In the meantime, we also planned to improve the accessibility of the public areas and the acoustics of the auditorium. During the modernization, the Hungarian government eventually decided that the designers and the contractors should not do a half-job, so the entire building, along with the historical public access areas, underwent a comprehensive reconstruction that surpassed even the last renovation in 1980-84.”
Renovating a 19th century masterpiece
The building, itself, is a palace, a 19th century masterpiece by Miklós Ybl. As to how difficult it was it to renovate the building in the spirit of the original ideas, Szilveszter Ókovács highlights that since the original plans were lost, it was a serious challenge to decide what to consider as the original idea, so the designers of the Zoboki Architecture workshop relied on contemporary accounts, the findings of the restorers and their own imagination in this field. Several solutions have been created after outlines and sketches that have never been realized, such as a new covering of the Iron Curtain, painted by OPERA's set artists, or the creation of undivided, horseshoe-shaped stalls in the auditorium, which was once unfeasible for fire protection reasons. The historical restoration, like any other, was time consuming, meticulous, and costly craftsmanship.
For a more complete musical experience
The difference in detail will be evident to those who had visited the Opera House previously and will attend performances there from this March, the General Director notes that upon arrival, the Opera House shows a renewed façade, the painted porcelain ornaments of the Zsolnay Manufactory and the golden paintings shine in a brighter color, which is even more emphasized in the evenings by the new decorative lighting. That vibrant freshness is also true in the interiors: the chandeliers and sconces of the public areas, as well as the three-ton Mainz chandelier in the auditorium, have regained their original form: the bulbs are now placed in candlestick imitations instead of the previously folded flower-cup-shaped lampshades. Both the ground floor stalls, the upstairs boxes, and the balcony can be reached by elevator for accessibility. In the auditorium, visitors are welcomed by more spacious, comfortable seating. Two rows of seats were removed after the orchestral pit regained its original size. On the balcony and in some parts of the stalls, smart chairs were introduced that present surtitles and other features. The acoustics have also improved noticeably: the enlarged, and tunable orchestral pit’s depth is adjustable, and is open to the resounding space below the stalls. All these features attribute to a more complete musical experience for visitors.
Renovations behind the scenes
Emphasizing again that the driving force behind the renovation was the renewal of stage technology, Szilveszter Ókovács explains that the state-of-the-art equipment supplied by Bosch Rexroth can move the streets of the stage faster, higher, and silently, creating a slope from a flat floor at the touch of a button. “Set workshops from the 4th and 5th floor have been moved out to our new logistics base and venue, Eiffel Art Studios, and a ballet and an opera rehearsal stage were set up to replace them. For the first time in 138 years, the orchestra received a proper dressing room in the basement, replacing the two-story set carpentry workshop. The soloist dressing rooms have been expanded with bathrooms, the relaxation of the ballet ensemble is supported by a sauna, while the administration has been given more spacious, open-plan offices.” In addition, the roof was restored, the building was air-conditioned, a fire alarm system was installed, the basement, the windows and rainwater pipes were insulated, the utility network was upgraded and low-voltage systems covering the entire building were installed (public announcement, IT, mobile signal amplifier, stage-manager intercom and Wi-Fi network, security, and access control systems), he adds.
Monumental productions awaiting the audience
With the renovation works over, artistic performance comes into the limelight again. “The exterior of the Opera House is indeed very beautiful, but this building, along with all its splendor, was designed by Miklós Ybl to be a theater, with all the state of the art architectural and artistic achievements of his age. All decorations, carvings and paintings ultimately serve the performing arts, and set the mood to enjoy theater,” the General Director points out. He stresses that with the opening of the Opera House, the Hungarian State Opera can once again put on its monumental productions that were missing from the repertoire in the last five years in the absence of a proper stage. “The monumental works of Wagner and Richard Strauss return to the repertoire. In the spring we will present the new arrangement of Parsifal and Götterdämmerung, and in the fall, we will perform the Ring Tetralogy in its entirety, interpreted by Hungarian artists. Die Frau ohne Schatten will also be on stage again in the upcoming weeks. The Hungarian National Ballet will feature Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, internationally acclaimed Hungarian choreographer László Seregi’s, Romeo and Juliet, and John Cranko’s Onegin,” he concludes.
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