Budapest's Erkel Theatre to reopen after refurbishment
9 October 2013, Budapest, Hungary
Dramatic facelift: the newly refurbished Erkel Theatre welcomes its first guests(Photo: Attila Nagy)
Gábor Bretz, the star turn of HSO's opening productions at the Erkel Theatre(Photo courtesy of IMG Artists)
The Erkel Theatre, Budapest’s second opera house, is reopening this month following a refurbishment project funded by the Hungarian government.
The Theatre closed in 2007 and its future remained uncertain until last year, when the Hungarian State Opera received a government grant for 1.7 billion Forints (£485,000) towards the cost of the improvements.
The official reopening will take place on 7 November, the birthday of Hungary’s national composer Ferenc Erkel, which from this year will also be known as the ‘Day of Hungarian Opera’. The first staged productions will open on 9 November with a double bill of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and János Vajda’s Mario and the Magician, featuring the internationally celebrated Hungarian bass Gábor Bretz leading the casts of both operas.
‘The re-opening of the Erkel Theatre will allow the Hungarian State Opera to expand the range of its activities and cultivate new audiences across the board,’ explains the company’s general director Szilveszter Ókovács. ‘We need to provide our audience with the core classics as well as with new productions of works that are perhaps more of an acquired taste. The reopened Theatre will add to the mixture: along with the classic repertoire, such as Aida, Don Carlos, Don Giovanni and Cav & Pag, we would like to introduce future visitors more specialist works, including our national repertoire of Hungarian operas. It is not unusual for capital cities to have opera theatres that present national pieces – think of English National Opera and its presentation of works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten. We do not stick to the Hungarian language in our productions, but we find it extremely important to play this national repertoire and get new as well as regular audience members acquainted with it.’
Originally opened in 1910, the Erkel Theatre took on its current identity as a ‘People’s Opera’ after the Second World War. Its history is intertwined with the golden age of Hungarian opera, with international stars such as Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Éva Marton and Grace Bumbry all having performed there. The theatre has a minimum capacity of 1,900 seats, which makes it the largest opera house in Central Europe. ‘Budapest’s historic State Opera House is a tourist attraction, and it has to have expensive seats and special repertoire featuring international stars,’ explains Ókovács. ‘But the Erkel Theatre will be the place for popular operas and ballets at more affordable prices – all with the same outstanding singers, dancers and musicians to ensure there is no step down in quality.’
Many of the recent refurbishments at the Erkel have taken place behind the scenes, including improvements to artist facilities, stage equipment and service systems, but audiences can also look forward to stepping into an auditorium with a completely new look that has retained its fantastic acoustic. With ticket prices ranging from 500 Forints (£1.40) to a maximum of 3,500 Forints (£10), Ókovács would the Erkel like to attract an audience of music lovers who might not otherwise be able to afford to see opera and dance: ‘At the Erkel Theatre, the emphasis is on atmosphere and comfort. The colour scheme and the very comfortable seats give the feeling of being in a cinema multiplex – it’s very cosy, and you can sit back and enjoy the wonderful sound quality.’