The Eiffel Workshop of the Hungarian State Opera House was opened in Budapest on Monday evening.
According to the official site, the largest indoor complex in Hungarian railway history, a system of vast covered spaces unique in Europe, the Northern Railway Maintenance and Engineering Works was built between 1884 and 1886. After years of alterations and renovations, starting it is now home to the Hungarian State Opera’s new logistics and art centre.
Since activities on the 22 hectare site ceased in 2009, in the summer of 2015 the government offered the middle 6.7 hectare part of the area to the Opera together with the five-nave core repair complex of 22,000 square metres, which has become known as the Eiffel, together with two auxiliary buildings and a medium-sized, standard train station.
The rehearsal, production and storage centre for the Opera is being built here where the Bánffy Stage, with a 500-seat auditorium, will be constructed to include the Sándor Hevesi Rehearsal Stage of the same size as the stage of the Opera House and the Ferenc Fricsay Studio suitable for recordings. In all of its nine production workshops, all of its sets, costumes and props here, the institution also create a memorial hall for János Feketeházy, the designer of both this building and the Opera House’s iron skeleton.
The Eiffel Hall, which was large enough to repair up to 96 huge steam locomotives at a time, will house a restaurant (in a vintage railway car made of teak), where guests can marvel at the legendary No. 327.141 Hungarian steam locomotive in the atrium and the No. 006 “Biatorbágy” steam locomotive of the 301 series in the park.
There will also be a costume rental shop and a visitor centre. The training centre for the Opera will be established here too, comprising the Opera Studio, the Opera Music School and the Opera Education Centre. The production studios will also function as a practical training centre, as we would like to train future generations of professionals in the ways of theatre production ourselves. We also plan to use the increased capacity in scene and costume preparations to take on orders.
A car park with a capacity for 200 vehicles was built next to a three-hectare park named after Zoltán Kodály and inaugurated during a spectacular open-air gala on 19 August 2020, where the famous viticulturist Károly Bakonyi’s grapes will grow together with Gergely Márk’s roses.
A playground was also constructed surrounded by the halls, which will operate in a spirit of environmental awareness.
Although the completion of the entire project was planned for the end of 2020, a brief test run was held in April 2019, when the areas open to the audience were opened. The Bánffy Stage also presented its first opera and ballet performances. The official inauguration of the complex was planned for October 2020, which was hindered by the pandemic. Despite the difficulties caused by the virus, the space was used intensively during the lockdown as well: since September of 2020, the Opera provided more than one hundred free live-streamed performances, chamber concerts, and opera crossovers from the Eiffel Art Studios’ Sándor Hevesi Stage. Not to mention the rehearsals that never stop: by the time the institution could be reopened, audiences were welcomed by new productions, including performances of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme and Figaro3.
The Hungarian State Opera and the Erkel Theatre are to gain a new art studios and rehearsal centre. Establishing and equipping the new centre as well as preparing the refurbishment of the Opera House in Andrássy Avenue is to be financed by the government.
Addressing the opening, Gergely Gulyás, the prime minister’s chief of staff, called
the Eiffel Workshop “one of the biggest cultural developments in the capital and the country this decade”.
Gulyás said the more than 33 billion forints (EUR 90.4m) investment to refurbish the 33,000sqm cultural centre and its 3-hectare park was “the first important step” in Hungary’s cultural developments that would be followed by the completion of the new Transport Museum and a music education centre.
The Eiffel Workshop can help lift Hungarian opera on the international scene, Gulyás said.
“This is also an important moment in strengthening our cultural identity,” he said.