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City of Liszt and circuses

Budapest - Spice of europe
BudapestGreater Budapest

Budapest is a city of a gilded opera house and a people’s one, a major contemporary arts centre, a prestigious music academy founded by Franz Liszt, theatres galore, a handful of symphony orchestras and a spanking new dance theatre, opened in 2019. Oh, and a contemporary circus company, acclaimed at Edinburgh and second to none in the region.

Even for non-Hungarian speakers, there is always a high-quality performance of some sort to enjoy, every night of the week, 52 weeks a year, in a concert hall or theatre whose architecture and sound qualities merit investigation in their own right.


All comes together for the Budapest Spring Festival, due to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2020. For 18 days in April, culture of all kinds is showcased at locations as diverse as the Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, a converted transformer station in once neglected, now gentrified District IX, and the Franz Liszt Music Academy, an Art Nouveau masterpiece dating back to 1907, magnificently restored in recent years.


It stands on the square named after Hungary’s most famous composer, Liszt Ferenc tér, a pleasant stroll along illustrious Andrássy út from the house and memorial museum where he lived, worked and conceived of a music conservatory for the nation he embraced.

Opera House, a gilded palace of music and ballet as impressive as its counterparts in Paris and Milan. Currently under renovation, it is due to reopen in 2021 – although guided tours are still taking place. In the meantime, the Hungarian National Ballet, whose corps has belonged to the Opera House since it was unveiled in 1884, perform mainly at the Erkel Theatre. Founded as the People’s Opera in 1911, this institution with the largest concert hall in the country has been attached to the Opera House since 1951.


Budapest has had a national theatre since 1837 but its history was a chequered one. It wasn’t until 2002 that the situation was resolved when a contemporary one was opened in what would become a major cultural complex, overlooking the Danube in now regenerated south Pest. Unveiled alongside three years later, Müpa (Művészetek Palotája, ‘Palace of Arts’) consists of the Bartók National Concert Hall, the Festival Theatre and the Ludwig Museum. Its unparalleled acoustics designed by master technician Russell Johnson, the Bartók concert hall welcomes the most prestigious conductors and orchestras in the world.

The Festival Theatre is favoured by contemporary dance companies, who also perform at Trafó and, as of 2019, the National Dance Theatre. These include Recirquel, founded by Bence Vági in 2012. Fusing dance, contemporary circus and acrobatic movement, Recirquel first performed in 2013, premiered The Naked Show at the Budapest Spring Festival of 2014 and staged the best-rated show by critics, My Land, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. A new cirque danse creation is scheduled for a Müpa premiere in the autumn of 2020, followed by a major European tour.


If anything shows Müpa’s ability to make culture open to all, and fun at the same time, it’s summer’s Wagner Days festival. Visitors in period costume relax on sunloungers over German beer before taking in a complete performance of a quality rarely enjoyed outside Bayreuth.