Miklós Ybl's crowning achievement, built between 1875 and 1884, is the glittering neo-Renaissance opera house. It's Budapest's main venue for opera and classical ballet, and it also presents an international repertoire of classical and modern works as well as such Hungarian favorites as Kodály's Háry János. Badly damaged during the siege of 1944–45, it was restored for its 1984 centenary.
Two buxom marble sphinxes guard the driveway; the main entrance is flanked by Alajos Strobl's "romantic-realist" limestone statues of Liszt and of another 19th-century Hungarian composer, Ferenc Erkel, the father of Hungarian opera (his patriotic opera Bánk bán is still performed for national celebrations).
Inside, the spectacle begins even before the performance does. You glide up grand staircases and through wood-paneled corridors and gilt lime-green salons into a glittering jewel box of an auditorium. Its four tiers of boxes are held up by helmeted sphinxes beneath a
frescoed ceiling by Károly Lotz. Lower down there are frescoes everywhere, with intertwined motifs of Apollo and Dionysus. In its early years the Budapest Opera was conducted by Gustav Mahler (1888–91), and after World War II by Otto Klemperer (1947–50).
You can't view the interior on your own, but 45-minute tours in English are usually conducted daily; buy tickets in the Opera Sales Sentre (Opera Értékesítési Centrum) near the Hajós utca entrance. (Large groups should call in advance.)
Of course, the best way to experience the Opera House is to see a ballet or opera. The main season runs from September to mid-June, and includes about 50 major productions, including about five new opera premieres a year. Tickets, which are available online as well as at the box office, are relatively affordable and easy acquire.
Except during the two-week international opera and ballet festival in mid-August, the Opera House is closed in summer. That said, the National Opera Company sometimes performs at various outdoor stages and festivals during the off-season, and can be heard almost nightly on several local classical radio stations.