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The Hungarian State Opera

The Hungarian State Opera (known as the Hungarian Royal Opera until 1945) was founded in 1884 by the Government of the Kingdom of Hungary. Its first directors were Ferenc Erkel, a Hungarian conductor, composer of the country’s national anthem and patriotic operas Bánk bán and László Hunyadi, and key figure in Hungarian opera culture; and Frigyes Campilli, a dancer, choreographer, and ballet master of Italian-German origin, who founded the first ballet troupe in Hungary. Located in Budapest, a culturally significant European capital, the HSO is one of the most important opera companies in the world. With two theaters―the opulent neo-Renaissance-style Opera House and the more modern Erkel Theatre (the largest indoor theatre/concert hall in Central-Europe)―the company can stage two productions at once, thus accommodating an audience of more than 3,200 people on a single night. Repertoire includes well- and lesser-known Hungarian and international operas and ballets, as well as contemporary and commissioned works. Each year the company presents more than 200 performances of 60-70 productions from its repertoire of more than 120 operas, more than 100 ballet performances, as well as musicals, and orchestra concerts, making it one of the busiest opera houses in the world.

The Hungarian State Opera contracts a roster of 150 singers, and has three ensembles: a 200-member symphony orchestra; the first and largest professional chorus in Hungary, which also has 200 members including the children’s chorus; and the only classical ballet company in Hungary with its 130 members.

An important educational initiative is the Opera Adventure program that brings operas to school children. Further initiatives include music programs and introductory lectures also organized for children. A new complex, the HSO’s Eiffel Art Studios, still under construction, will house the HSO's training facilities: the Opera Music School and the Hungarian National Ballet Institute; as well as a new auditorium, the Bánffy Stage; a costume rental facility, restaurant, and green space.

A brief history

Though opera had long existed in Hungary as part of the aristocratic courts (most famously, Joseph Haydn composed for the court of Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy) Hungary’s first national institution dedicated to opera was the Hungarian Theatre of Pest built in 1837, renamed as the National Theatre in 1840. Construction on the current opera house, designed by Miklós Ybl, the most influential Hungarian architect of his time, began in 1875 and was funded by the city of Budapest and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. The opera house opened to the public on September 27, 1884 with a performance featuring Act I of Ferenc Erkel’s Bánk bán, considered Hungary’s national opera, the composer’s overture to László Hunyadi, another patriotic Hungarian opera, and Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

For 134 years, the Hungarian State Opera has been the country’s sole institution dedicated exclusively to the classical genres of opera and ballet, and over the course of its history has been a fixture of concert life for leading artists of the day. Gustav Mahler served as general director during the late 19th century, and in the first half of the 20th century, Puccini, R. Strauss, Szell, Toscanini, and Furtwängler conducted at the house; tenor Enrico Caruso performed Radamès in Aida, and the company presented Sergei “Serge” Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The HSO also premiered Béla Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle (1908) and ballet The Wooden Prince (1917), and Zoltán Kodály's opera Háry János (1926) and theater piece The Spinning Room (1932). Following World War II, Otto Klemperer became principal musical director, followed by János Ferencsik.

In 1951, the HSO acquired its second venue, the Erkel Theatre, which has since presented esteemed opera singers such as Giuseppe Di Stefano, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Monserrat Caballé, Nicolai Gedda, and also jazz performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. In recent years, the HSO has welcomed internationally acclaimed opera singers including Roberto Alagna, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Leo Nucci, René Pape, Xavier Sabata, Erwin Schrott, and Bryn Terfel; and renowned choreographers Anna-Marie Holmes, Mikhail Messerer, Toer van Schayk, Hans van Manen.

Hungarian National Ballet

The second pillar of the company is the Hungarian National Ballet, the only classical ballet company in Hungary. The Hungarian National Ballet has been the resident company of the Hungarian State Opera since its foundation. The ballet’s artistic director, currently Tamás Solymosi, has artistic autonomy and is nominated by the general director of the Hungarian State Opera.

With nearly 100 performances throughout the season, the Hungarian National Ballet’s rich repertoire includes classic choreographies such as Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake. The company recently performed John Cranko’s Onegin, Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow, and Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, and The Nutcracker with new choreography by Wayne Eagling and the company’s ballet director Tamás Solymosi. The Hungarian National Ballet has also performed modern pieces such as Harald Lander’s Etudes, an all-male ballet parody entitled Troy Game by Robert North, several choreographies by Jiří Kylián, and a performance comprising three one-act pieces by Hans van Manen Trois Gnossiennes, 5 Tangos and Black Cake.

Tours around the world

The Hungarian State Opera and the Hungarian National Ballet have toured around the world for nearly a century. In the decades preceding World War II, the company toured Hungarian works to Nuremberg, Bayreuth, Munich, Florence, and La Scala in Milan. The years following the end of the war the company toured the Eastern Block with opera and ballet performances in Prague, Bucharest, Bratislava, Brno, Moscow, Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, East Berlin, and Dresden. The company also toured Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and different ballet pieces to Western European venues in Helsinki, Edinburgh, Paris, Stockholm, Monte Carlo, and Cairo. From the 1970s the opera and ballet companies began touring additional European cities including Rome, Bordeaux, Cologne, Venice, Vienna, Salzburg, and Amsterdam, among others. After the fall of the iron curtain, touring expanded to Asia, and cities as far away as Mexico City, Hong Kong, Lima, and Oman. The ballet toured to Taiwan and China in 1991, and the Hungarian State Opera has also toured to Japan ten times since 1988. This season (2017/18), the opera accompanied Anna Netrebko at the Waldbühne in Berlin, and Andrea Bocelli in Jordan. The tenth Japanese tour took place in October and November with Lucia di Lammermoor, and Die Fledermaus, as well as orchestra concerts; and last September the company toured Ferenc Erkel’s opera László Hunyadi and a ballet version of The Merry Widow to eight cities in Transylvania. This same tour continued in February with performances in the Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria.

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