Following in the footsteps of Sissi at the Hungarian Opera in 1885

Join us as we take a journey inside some of the world’s great opera houses.

Imagine we’re in 1885, and tonight, we have tickets for the Hungarian Royal Opera House in Budapest, Hungary.

The neo-Renaissance opera house was designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure in 19th-century Hungarian architecture.

Built between 1875 and 1884, it was a time when Franz Joseph I was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. There had been peace for 20 years and Hungary was prospering.

His wife, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary—fondly known as “Sissi”—spent most of her time in Hungary, either at their sprawling country residence of Gödöllő Palace or the capital city, Budapest.

Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth

The politics and protocol of the Vienna court did not suit her. She much preferred to ride her horses through the beautiful grounds of Gödöllő and attend the opera in Budapest.

Naturally introverted, it is said that when Sissi wanted to break from the solitude of Gödöllő for the cultural delights of Budapest, she would attend the opera and watch performances from the first-floor proscenium box known as the “Sissi Box”. From here, she could see everything whilst being hidden from public view.

Join us as we follow in Sissi’s footsteps while listening to Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem.

This is the Hungarian Royal Opera House in the latter part of the 19th century.

At night, it would have been a glorious sight, lit with softly glowing gas lights, first introduced in 1856.

Hungarian State Opera House Credit Snobli Ivan, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House Credit Snobli Ivan, flickr
View of the Hungarian State Opera House at night. Credit Mstyslav Chernov
View of the Hungarian State Opera House at night. Credit Mstyslav Chernov

The main entrance was dazzling, with its richly decorated Baroque interior, marble columns, and vaulted ceiling covered in beautiful murals depicting the nine Muses—the Greek goddesses of literature, science, and the arts.

Going to the opera was a great social occasion for the elite of Budapest society.

A vast, sweeping marble staircase allowed the ladies to show off their new gowns.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit jaime.silva, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit jaime.silva, flickr
The grand staircase is one of the most impressive aspects of the Opera House. Image Credit:
The grand staircase is one of the most impressive aspects of the Opera House. Image Credit Hungarian State Opera.

We will use the royal entrance, naturally. The royal staircase takes us discreetly from the street to the parlours on the first floor.

A private entrance from the carriage ramp in Dalszínház street – known as the royal staircase – leads to the parlours on the first floor.
A private entrance from the carriage ramp in Dalszínház street – known as the royal staircase – leads to the parlours on the first floor. Credit Hungarian State Opera.

And there is the royal box in the center, with a magnificent view—the best seat in the house.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Ted McGrath, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Ted McGrath, flickr

What a beautiful creation this is. Seating 1,261 people, it has a horseshoe shape and, according to sound measurements, the third best acoustics in Europe.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Jason DeRose, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Jason DeRose, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Miroslav Petrasko, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Miroslav Petrasko, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Markus Lutkemeyer, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Markus Lutkemeyer, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit ecv5, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit ecv5, flickr
Teatro dell'Opera. Credit: Andrea Puggioni
Teatro dell’Opera. Credit: Andrea Puggioni

Sissi preferred the proscenium box—just to the left of the stage. So nice and private—hidden from prying eyes. Those who knew called it the “Sissi box”.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit hijukal, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit hijukal, flickr

Let the opera commence.

Click on the below image and pan around the opera house in real-time.

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